On a cold winter morning Jeff’s alarm went off. He, groaned, sat up, and put his feet on the floor. It was cold. With great sincerity he prayed, “Father, thank you for a good night’s sleep. Thank you for the soft mattress and warm blankets. God, I am even thankful for the alarm clock.”
He stumbled to the bathroom, eyes half open, mind partially there, reached for the electric razor. “Father, thank you for this shaver. Most people throughout history have shaved with a sharp knife, if at all. And while I am at it thank you for the central heating and electric lights.”
He groped his way into the kitchen, plugged the coffee pot in. “Father, thank you for this coffee pot. A gift from you. I am so grateful. No water to boil. Just plug and go. Hot Coffee! What a privilege. God, you are so good to me.”
Returning to his bedroom he opened his bedroom closet to a row of shirts, slacks, and shoes. Just yesterday he read about the average father in Southeast Asia who feeds his family on a $100 per month. He has nothing left for clothing. He prays, “Father, how great is your grace. Thank you for these material blessings. I am so unworthy.”
He gets dressed and settles into his favorite chair for prayer and Bible reading. Now he comes to the real reason for gratitude. “Father, thank you for the gospel. You chose me from before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in your sight. Why me? It wasn’t my virtues. You didn’t foresee goodness in me. That is clear. It was astounding love and grace given without assignable cause, plain and simple. Father, thank you for sending your Son to rescue me from the futile ways of my forefathers. Thank you for saving me from the wrath to come. Thank you for saving me from hell. You sent your Son to experience the horrible wrath I deserve. You did this to unite us in friendship and love. How can I comprehend such mercy? How can I thank you enough? I am so grateful for your kindness. Thank you for showing amazing grace to an unworthy sinner.”
Jeff is a man who knows what he deserves. He takes nothing for granted.
“And Father, while I’m at it, thank you for this Bible. Most Christians have never owned one, nor would they have been able to read one if they had, but I have 6 different translations, and could easily buy more. I am so grateful. And, while I am at it, “thank you for my wife and three children. Yes, they have problems. It is not all roses. None are perfect. Sometimes there is conflict, but I want to thank you for your obvious grace in their lives.”
On the way to work he takes a mental inventory of his schedule. At 10:00 he must mediate a conflict between two subordinates. “Father, thank you for this problem. How good of you to allow me to help these two. I don’t know how I am going to resolve this conflict, but I want to thank you in advance for the grace that you will provide.”
Lunch arrives. He bows his head in deep and profound gratitude. He knows that 85% of the world lives on less than $200 per month, and that huge swath of the world’s population go to bed hungry every night. He deserves worse, and he knows it. He doesn’t say grace perfunctorily or mechanically. He prays a short prayer of profound, heart-felt gratitude.
Can you relate to Jeff? Probably not. He sounds a bit Pollyanna, maybe even over the top. If you are like most Christians you know you need to be more thankful, but gratitude is a “fly-over virtue.” Yes, you are grateful, but your thanksgiving is often mechanical, and not especially sincere. Even worse, in many “circumstances” thanksgiving doesn’t even cross your mind. You know you are supposed to give thanks and be grateful, but you rarely think about it. Most significantly, you don’t consider this failure a big deal. You often grumble, complain, and give in to self-pity, but doesn’t everyone? What’s the big deal? Doesn’t God know that we are human?
But, this is not God’s perspective. Gratitude is foundational to vibrant Christianity. Its opposites—grumbling, complaining, discontentment, and self-pity—are rampant and violent statements of unbelief. They reject the gospel. They say, “I assume that I deserve God’s grace,” a grace that cost the Father his Son. They deny God’s sovereignty and his goodness. They suggest, that “God can’t be trusted.” They proclaim this message: “God isn’t really that good!” The failure to live in constant overflowing gratitude makes a simple statement: “I deserve better than I am getting.”
No well-informed Christian would ever say this out loud, but that is how God sees it. That is what ungratefulness says to God, to the angels, and to everyone watching.
Functionally, grumbling, complaining, and self pity strip God of his glory. Since God values nothing more than his glory, throughout redemptive history he has responded to this sin decisively. He aggressively punished the “grumbling” of the Jewish people. Moses called it the sin of “despising God” (Num. 14). None of us would ever think of despising God, yet that is how God sees ingratitude and its various manifestations. God consigned the grumbling Jews to death in the wilderness. For failure to be thankful they were barred from the Promised Land.
After God judged Korah, Dathan, and Abiram the Israelites grumbled a second time. How did God respond? He put 14,700 of them to death (Num. 16:49). Note: This sin wasn’t even one of the biggies—drugs, sex, or drunkenness. It was just a little grumbling.
Paul knew these stories. That is one reason that he emphasized gratitude. In fact, he exulted in it. He exhorted the churches he served, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Although the Corinthian church tolerated members that practiced incest, drank too much wine at communion, and even denied the resurrection, Paul began his letter to them with gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). Paul was not flattering them. He was sincere.
Paul’s exhortation to gratitude also applies to our speech. “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). How about corporate worship? “Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20).
But just being thankful isn’t enough. He commands the church at Colossae to “abound” in this virtue. “So walk in him…abounding in thanksgiving. (Col. 2:7). Some translate it “overflowing” with thanksgiving.
We can sum up Paul’s exhortations this way. Gratitude is the right way to respond to every circumstance in life. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:18). Gratitude and thanksgiving are not “fly over” virtues. Just the opposite. The Christian mind is to be thankful in every circumstance. In fact, Paul commands us to “overflow with thanksgiving.” We should pray with thanksgiving. We should worship with thanksgiving.
With all of this in mind, lets return to our friend, Jeff. Was his gratitude excessive? In light of these texts, I don’t think so. He was just practicing biblical Christianity. In fact, he was probably not thankful enough! He was just responding appropriately to the truths about God, man, creation and redemption that the Bible reveals. What seems excessive to us was just a fervent attempt by Jeff to be biblical, to be godly, to be the normal Christian that scripture commends.
Do you and I see it this way? By William Farley
(Continued in Part Two)