When I was in law school, I spent a summer as an intern at the Pentagon. One day, I was given a quick tour that included the office of the Secretary of the Air Force. I will never forget the demonstration of a big machine they had. A pen was strapped on top, a stencil was inserted, and a piece of paper was put under the pen. When the machine was turned on, the pen traced a perfect signature for the Secretary of the Air Force. They had a handful of stencils available for other signatures, too.
Since then, I’ve never been able to look at a “hand signed” letter or certificate the same way. And now we get email blasts with our individual names on them and letters with electronic signatures. No matter what a thank you letter or note says, I wonder who really sent it and if anyone really cares.
I was thinking recently about how, when, and why we thank volunteers. There are books, articles, and websites devoted to volunteer appreciation. They can be a great help. But I started with the Bible. I was actually surprised at what I found.
The first Bible study resource I checked was BibleGateway.com. A search for “thank” pulled everything on thank, thanks, thankful, thanksgiving, etc. Then I went to my Strong’s exhaustive concordance for the NASB and my exhaustive concordance for the NIV translation.
In each case, the results were the same: I didn’t see any instances where they were thanking people. The thanks were always given to God.
It bothers me every year at Thanksgiving time that so many people miss the point of the holiday. It has turned into a time of remembering to thank people in our lives — not a bad thing in itself by any means, but not at all what the Pilgrims had in mind. The Pilgrims took their cue from the Old Testament Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 34:22), when the Hebrews thanked God for the harvest. Sure, the Pilgrims (and the Hebrews) appreciated what people around them had done that helped the community survive, but they expressed their thanks to God.
So, does that mean that the writers of Scripture ignored people who were doing good work and being a blessing? Definitely not. Paul frequently thanked God for people. (See 1 Cor. 1:4, Eph. 1:16, Phil. 1:3, 1 Thes. 1:2, 2 Thes. 1:3 and 2:13.)
People were “appreciated” and “honored” — valued and shown that they were esteemed. For example, when the pagan king of the book of Esther (chapter 6) looked for a way to show his appreciation to Mordecai for exposing an assassination plot, he asked his staff what honor or dignity had been bestowed on Mordecai (v. 3).
When we honor people, though, we need to keep perspective. We overstep our bounds when we honor people above God (1 Sam. 2:29). We love and appreciate our volunteers, but let’s not get confused about where they come from. God sends and equips them. And we need to thank Him for that.
I don’t mind, obviously, when someone thanks me for doing something. When I’ve done something in ministry, a “thank you” lets me know that I’ve made a valuable contribution. But I like it even better when I see that something I have done prompted someone to give their thanks to God.