walk in the word
Maybe your mom was like mine. No sooner had someone given me a cookie, than I felt her elbow and heard her whisper, “Say thanks.” By the time we were three years old, the MacDonald children had said “thanks” a million times. Then before we knew it, we were poking our own kids: “Say thanks. Say thanks.”
Does saying thanks really mean anything? I’m sure you find yourself in a public setting where politeness requires a steady stream of “duty-thanks”:
“Here’s your table, sir.”
“Here’s your menu, sir.”
“Here’s your coffee, sir.”
“More coffee, sir?”
But as any waitress will tell you, the number of thanks and the amount of the tip do not necessarily go together. Genuine gratitude must be distinguished from a knee-jerk politeness or a programmed “duty-thanks.” The kind of life-changing heart attitude that God desires is much deeper than surface, verbal gratitude.
The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as: “to show that a kindness received is valued.” Genuine gratitude requires that we get past obligation and somehow demonstrate that we deeply appreciate what we have received.
“Thank You, God, for this new day.”
“Thank You for the life that I can use to serve You.”
“Thank You for breath that I can use to praise You.”
“Thank You for health.”
“Thank You, Lord, for strength.”
But how often do we make the choice to turn from all that we’ve received and focus on what we still want? Answer: Way too many times. That’s when we naturally default to complaining. We minimize the blessings of life and magnify every negative circumstance we encounter.
“I can’t believe the nursery workers are late again.”
“I am sick of this lousy weather.”
“Why can’t the kids pick up after themselves?”
“Nobody appreciates me.”
We focus on the negative and life becomes a wilderness.
Instead, we need to develop our level of gratitude. There are three levels of thankfulness: elementary school thankfulness, high school thankfulness and graduate school thankfulness. Let’s visit each of them.
Elementary school thankfulness instructs us to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15, ESV). Here, thankfulness is a sacrifice. In effect, we say to God, “You helped me and now I say thanks. My obligation has been met; I recognize your involvement.” Now for sure that’s something—but it’s not much. As long as thankfulness is just a sacrifice, “I’ll do it if I have to, I guess,” you’ve done your duty, but you won’t find much joy.
High school thankfulness is better. “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV). In every situation, you and I can always find something to be thankful for—always. We can make the decision. We can look away from what’s wrong and focus on what’s right and give thanks. “In everything give thanks.” The high school version of thankfulness does produce joy as long as you’re not going through anything too difficult.
But if you want real joy—if you want to be done with living in a virtual wilderness forever, then go on to level three—graduate school thankfulness. “Be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:18, 20). This gratitude searches to find a good aspect in a challenging circumstance. This is the thankfulness that trusts God and thus is grateful for the bad things . . . yes, even that (referring to whatever came to mind when you read “bad thing.”) This is the Mt. Everest of thankfulness and it promises victory over every circumstance.
Perhaps today you are battling a health crisis or experiencing a lingering, great sorrow. Maybe you’ve got a huge financial need. You (and I) need to get to the place by faith where we can say, “Thank You, God. This is the thing that You are using in my life. You’ve allowed it because You love me and I trust You. Thank You, God, even for this!” When we allow the Lord to bring us to that kind of thankfulness, we will experience a depth of joy we never thought possible.
This is real gratitude. If you’re not there yet, walk in that direction with your every choice of a grateful attitude. Begin right now by thanking God for something so far out there—far from what you’d ever think you could be grateful for. In faith, “say thanks” for that. Sure, it’ll stretch your view of what God is doing in your life, but do it anyway. You’ll be grateful and glad for the results.
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