Americans have our hands extended because we always expect to receive something. Many analysts and sociologists portray us as an entitlement culture, meaning essentially that across the board, we Americans believe we deserve certain privileges and we're typically arrogant about it. According to www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/entitlement this culture of entitlement "suggests that many people now have highly unreasonable expectations about what they are entitled to." Much of the emotional upheaval so visible around our nation right now---you know, anger, envy, dissension, resistance to authority, political unrest, and more---is in great part the fallout of unmet expectations. In plain terms we generally perceive empty hands as having been robbed of what we deserve.
At the root this is a collision of worldviews. Those of us guided by the whole counsel of God revealed in Scripture and the life of Jesus Christ bring different expectations to our life circumstances. In summary, and understanding the risk of being misunderstood, a biblical worldview teaches that we humans really deserve nothing in this life. As natural born sinners we deserve eternity separated from God. Two verses from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Romans guide this conclusion---
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23, ESV
For the wages of sin is death.
Romans 6:23, ESV
This worldview is established, of course, on a high view of Scripture and the conviction that...
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be
complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV
Going simple, secular and humanist worldviews have a much lower perception of Scripture, placing mankind at the center of all things and resulting in the larger expectation that the human species deserves all of the goodies of life. So, today there are hundreds of emotional triggers that ignite our passions when we don't get what we perceive as our just desserts. They are the buzzwords of a culture on a collision course---happiness, justice, fairness,, equality, rights, liberty, expression, freedom, accomplishment, and many more. That these same terms are also the language of our national ethos may explain why there's so much confusion about hand's extended to the world.
Heart-felt thankfulness involves extended hands too. They are at first the hands of a penitent sinner humbly asking for grace and mercy. In the same way, these hands are extended to give. It is in the grace of generous giving that the most serious alteration is made in human hands. Hands accustomed to receive are richly blessed as they are re-positioned to give. Perhaps the most noted Scriptural recognition of this change is annotated by the Apostle Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians. This letter was occasioned in part by Paul's desire to deliver a love gift to the persecuted believers in Jerusalem. He challenged the Corinthians to provide a bold gift. In the process he made some incredible claims about the blessings of giving. He wrote---
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever
sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided
in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in
all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He
has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures
forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and
multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You
will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will
produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying
the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By
their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission
that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of
your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for
you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his
2 Corinthians 9: 6-15, ESV
It's a well-known passage and is a proof text used in most churches to encourage generosity in giving. The significant points are well known in the Christian community. There's one that is less known that I'll mention now. It is this: the conclusion of the challenge is the declaration, "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift" (v.15). The question is, what is this inexpressible gift. Eternal life? The promise given to people who sow boldly? That God is able to make all grace about to the Corinthians? The reality of God's multiplying their seed and increasing their harvest? Surely, they all apply at some point of consideration. But, in this context, the inexpressible gift is about their generosity, how their gift is "...supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God" (v.12). It was, to be specific, "...the surpassing grace of God upon you" (v. 14). This spirit of thanksgiving that accompanied their gift brought the surpassing grace of God upon them.
It is a reversal that a world of entitlement needs to experience, the change that gratitude accomplishes in the hands of thankful people. Yes, thanksgiving changes us. More specifically a spirit of genuine gratitude changes our minds, our hands, our eyes, and more deeply, our hearts. Thanksgiving shifts our minds away from the narrow limits of self, our hands from the selfish expectations of entitlement, our eyes toward the provider of all things and the people around us, and ultimately, our hearts from self-absorption so that we can experience the blessed grace of giving.
It's how thankfulness changes us. The hands of entitled expectation to the hands of penitent sinner, to the hands of generous giver.