This article was originally published with Convivium.
There are many things I am thankful for this year. Gift upon gift poured out, and in many ways it hardly seems fair. The gifts of God have come in many forms, and each one reminds me of His love anew.
In the midst of my gratitude for the gifts God has given me, my heart turns, not towards the gifts, but to the Giver. In recent years I have often struggled – am I asking only for the gifts of God, rather than for God Himself?
Because I have been given much. Much healing, much provision, much blessing. But none of those gifts outshine the Giver. They point to Him, cry out His name, and evidence His love, glory, and power. At Thanksgiving I am reminded that gifts point to the Giver – the true gift who, in all His fullness, is all of what we need.
And so, I ask myself, over and over and over again, in each season, in each blessing, in each struggle: Do you want a gift, or do you want the Giver?
In John 6 we see an exchange that leaves this question hanging – do you want a gift, or do you want the Giver? This question is defining my Thanksgiving.
Like manna in the desert (Exodus 16), Jesus gave bread to the people. A miracle that painted a picture – a clear reminder – of God’s provision. That night He walked on water, rescued His disciples from a storm and, in the morning, the crowds came again. Hungry, waiting. And so began the exchange.
Give us bread, they said.
I am what you’re looking for.
OK. Give us bread, they pushed.
You don’t understand, I am what you are looking for.
Sure. But how do we get the bread, they demanded.
What you are asking for won’t satisfy you. I alone am enough. You must have me.
Back and forth and back and forth, the question of which you are after must have rolled through the heavens. Do you want the gifts of God or do you want God Himself? Because God Himself, incarnate before you, is here – and still you ask for bread.
And then, offended, they left.
It turns out that asking for radical surrender doesn’t always please the crowd and disciples, followers, listeners, scoffers, left.
The 12 remained.
“And what about you?” Jesus asked. “Are you going to leave, too?”
And now we come to one of my favourite verses in all of Scripture. The verse that captures this Thanksgiving for me.
“Lord, to whom shall we go?” asked Peter. “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Let that sit. Let it resonate.
In the face of difficult teaching, in the face of a mass abandoning of their teacher, the disciples were left with a question. Are you going to leave? Do you believe I am worth following? A question that every man, woman and child who claims the name of Christ has to answer. In the face of all this, is He worth following?
And in his both-feet-in, always forward never backwards way, Peter responds.
Lord – a title, an acknowledgement. Authority, dominion and rule. Lord. The one I give my life to, follow, and obey. Lord, to whom shall we go? Where else am I going to go? You have the words of eternal life. Everything I need? You’re it. All my hope, all my devotion, is in you. We believe, we know, you are the Holy One of God.
This is it. The One we are waiting for. Our Messiah, our salvation, our Lord, Master, Healer, Deliverer, Provision, Friend. You. You alone. Not manna from heaven. You. No act of healing. You. Not an easier road, not likeability or popularity, not wealth or treasure or fame. You.
In the knowledge of the Holy One, the gifts fade. Grateful, yes. Blessed, yes. But all fades in comparison to the knowledge of our Jesus, our Christ – the Holy One of God. In that, resides my thankfulness.
Our gratitude begins and ends with who God is. This thanksgiving I am turning my heart not to the gifts, but to the Giver. The good and holy Giver of all good gifts.