Children often have a difficult time learning good manners. Parents have to be persistent to make their children say "please" and "thank you." To get a child to say "please" may be a challenge, but it is usually not as difficult as the "thank you," for once a child has what he or she wants, well, the "please" has accomplished its purpose. A child may have to be prompted, or even called back as he or she walks away, and be asked, "What do you say now?" A belated "thank you" may follow. It is a challenge to teach children good manners done spontaneously, without prompting.
This training in good manners can also be extended to our life as children of our heavenly Father. We need to be taught to say "please" and "thank you" for his spiritual gifts. We confess in Lord's Day 45, QUA 116 of the Heidelberg Catechism that
God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask him for these gifts and thank him for them.
It takes some time for us to do that spontaneously, without prompting. Good manners, however, are not only to be shown for the spiritual gift of our salvation from sin. They are just as necessary for all the material gifts of life.
A Creation Ordinance
When you think it through, good manners of "please" and "thank you" for material gifts are something that are even more fundamental than with respect to the gifts of our salvation. They are rooted in the creation. In the Garden, after all, it was not yet necessary to say "please" and "thank you" for the gift of salvation, but it was necessary to say these words with respect to the gifts of creation. We might even say that good manners with respect to our material blessings are a creation ordinance.
The annual Thanksgiving holiday is a good occasion to bring this out. As the gospel is all about the spiritual benefits obtained by Christ and applied by the Spirit, it is easy to forget our original place in creation. An essential part of our being human is that we live in a body. Our bodily life is not something secondary. It is very much part of who we are, of how God made us. It is all part of the goodness of creation.
Disconnecting the Physical and Spiritual
When you let your mind scan the course of history, you see how often God's children have disconnected the physical and the spiritual dimensions of life. Israel showed that in the way they uttered their "please" and "thank you" for material matters to the Baals, while at the same time serving the LORD. In a different twist on the same theme, the New Testament church has had to deal with dualistic thinking which downplayed the value of the life in the body. We can see this in the rise of monasticism in the late third century and its ascetic tendencies. This affected the thinking of the church for many centuries. We see it in our age in the way there can be the subtle suggestion that you really only serve the Lord if you are doing something directly for the furthering of his kingdom. In other words, you have to be involved in some sort of spiritual activity. All the emphasis falls on the so called "Great Commission," the mandate the Lord Jesus gave to his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. The result is that the ordinary activities of life in this world are seen as too mundane and too materialistic for the truly spiritual person.
As we experience this spiritualizing trend in our time, we are in danger of losing one of the gains of the age of the Reformation, namely, the way it gave renewed legitimacy to the routines of daily life in terms of marriage and work, and the enjoyment of the good things the earth brings forth. Luther showed that by leaving the monastic life and marrying. It showed up in the renewed valuing of daily work. This is reflected in the way the Catechism shows the sanctity of daily work when it expands on the third petition, "Your will be done," by speaking of everyone carrying out the duties of his office and calling. The text references point to the marriage relationship and doing our daily work (1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Ephesians 6:5-9).
Danger of Over-Spiritualizing
We need to realize that while there is always the danger of materialism, that is, of being obsessed with the material part of life, there is also the danger of over-spiritualizing life. As Christians, we should aim to live a balanced life. That means, we know the Great Commission but we also know the Creation Commission. We have been created as physical beings. God created mankind to be fruitful and subdue the earth, both very physical activities. The Great Commission has not cancelled the Creation Commission, as if we should be content to get by on the bare minimum just to fulfill the Great Commission. In fact, for the vast majority of church members, the Creation Commission is to be far more dominant than the Great Commission. We see this, for example, in Paul's words to the Thessalonian,
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12
It is important to highlight that the Great Commission does not negate the Creation Commission. The Lord Jesus came to redeem life, which means that he also came to restore a proper view of the material part of life. He reinforced God is God of all of life, including the needs of our body, when he taught that an essential part of prayer is to be the petition, "Give us today our daily bread." He taught us to say "please" for our bodily needs. Interestingly enough, he placed this petition about our bodily needs before petitions of a more spiritual nature, namely, forgiveness of sins and being kept from temptation.
Evaluating Our Thankfulness
Now "please" should always be followed by "thank you." The question can be raised if we do that sufficiently, or whether we are more like children who have received what they wanted and run off without saying "thank you." Just to measure yourself in this, ask how you mark the occasion of "Thanksgiving." To be sure, ministers are expected to choose an appropriate passage from Scripture for Thanksgiving Sunday. But what do we do as families? Do we save the turkey for Christmas because there are things to do and places to go while the weather is still quite pleasant? Thanksgiving, while not prescribed in Scripture as a formal holiday, is rooted in Christian faith and practice. Do we show any of that faith in practice in our family traditions?
Saying "thank you" to our heavenly Father, of course, is not to be limited to Thanksgiving. This day stands out because another season of planting, cultivating, growth, and harvesting has been completed. We have reason to say "thank you" to our heavenly Father for each meal we receive and all the good things of life on earth we may enjoy. Do we give daily thanks, or does that get passed over because, well, life is busy. There are things to do and places to go, so prayers after meals are rushed or non-existent? Further, does it happen that after our Father answered our "please" with great generosity, we got busy thinking how to use all we have to get maximum enjoyment out of it? Does it happen that at times we do say "thank you" rather absent-mindedly, and actually insincerely, because, with the many good things our Father has given us, we get less careful about how we keep his commands? For example, as we think about the abundant provision of material gifts, are we not so much thinking "thank you" but about the things we can do and the far flung more places we can visit, aware that those activities affect our ability to keep the command to "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy..." Is that using our blessings in a truly thankful way?
Show Good Manners
So, this Thanksgiving, let us reflect on our Christian manners. We need to be reminded to say "please" to our heavenly Father also for all our bodily needs. Our "please" should be followed by "thank you." Our heavenly Father does provide abundantly for all our bodily needs. Such thanksgiving may have our special attention at this time of the year, but it should also be evident throughout the year. In the end, thanksgiving for all our blessings really should be one of the characteristics of our Christian life. The annual Thanksgiving is a special time to show good manners and give thanks for our many blessings.