The Magnitude of Gratitude
Wow! Tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2020! I don't know about you, but to me it somehow seems as if this year has both flown by and dragged on forever simultaneously. It doesn't feel like it should be the holiday season quite yet, but also January and February seem so long ago. Ready or not, the holidays are here though, huh? I'm well aware that you could potentially be knee deep in turkey roasting and pie baking, but this topic has been on my heart for months now and I knew I had to squeeze this post in before Thanskgiving comes and goes. Because let's be honest; most of us have thought far more about what, when, and where we are eating tomorrow than we have about why we even get to celebrate the holiday anyway, am I right? We consume ourselves with the shopping, cooking, and preparing for a tradition- because it's what we have always done. That's what we have deemed to be "Thanksgiving" in our society. We stumble through the grocery store, gazing over our lengthy lists of foods to buy, go home and slave over our ovens for hours on end, and collapse in exhaustion on Thursday afternoon around a table of people that we may or may not even really talk to because we can't wait to watch football and scan the sales ads for Black Friday deals- already planning the next traditional fiasco- Christmas. We don't stop for a second to think about or talk about what it is we are even celebrating before we move right on to the next thing. Sound about right? I'm convinced that we are missing the point. Missing the point about the Thanksgiving holiday, but also about the thankfulness we live- or don't live- every single day. Do we really want to spend the rest of our Thanksgivings- the rest of all of our days- with the wrong attitude about our thankfulness. It is a small thing that will make a huge difference.
The dictionary definition of gratitude states that it is "the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful," and it says that grateful means to be "warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; to be thankful." I shuddered when I read that the definition of gratitude in our dictionary states that it is nothing more than a feeling. Because that would mean that gratitude is optional. If I'm feeling grateful, great! If I'm not, well that's fine too.... Ya'll, that is a LIE! Gratitude is not something we muster up if we feel like it when things are going our way and something we toss to the side when they are not! Why not? What is the problem with seeing gratitude as a feeling? Because the Bible tells us- commands us- to be thanful, to give thanks, to thank God- over and over and over. Both in the Old and New Testaments we see God commanding His people to be thankful:
1 Thessalonians 5:18 "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
Colossians 3:15,17 "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.... And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."
1 Chronicles 16:8 "Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples!"
Psalm 100:4 "Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!"
So the problem with gratitude being an emotion? God does not command feelings. He commands actions. He does not command us to feel grateful. He commands us to act grateful. All of those verse above, and most any verse you can look up in Scripture about thanksgiving, is referring to an action. Giving. Singing. Entering. Offering. Bringing. God commands us to be grateful. Do you see how scary this is, friends? If we think gratitude is optional- if it is just an emotion that we can feel or not feel depending on fluctuating factors- we are saying that our obedience is optional. We are saying that God is worthy to be obeyed and honored when we feel like it, but He's not if we don't. That is true of any of God's commands, because our praise is tied to our obedience. So if we are not giving thanks- if we are not praising God- we are not obeying God. We cannot do one without the other. We try though. We try to praise God on Sundays but get to work on Mondays and gripe. We try to praise God for the promotion but whine about the work it requires. We try to ask for forgiveness while faking repentance. We try to get to Heaven while living like heathens. Y'all! My point here is this- thanksgiving is not just a holiday. It is not just what we do when we bless our meals. It is not just what we do when God answers prayers the way we think He should. Gratitude is just as much a part of who we are as Christians as our DNA is of who we are as humans. We have been created to be grateful. Don't believe me? Then why did God command us to praise and give thanks? Surely He wouldn't have had to command something that we would automatically do on our own, right?
You are probably feeling the proverbial punch in the face at this point, right? That's how I felt the first time I knew God was speaking to me about my own attitude about gratitude. He was whispering into my not-so-grateful heart that I did not have to be grateful for my circumstances to be grateful to my Savior. That I did not have to be thankful for my condition to be thankful for His counsel through it. That I did not have to be grateful for death in order to be grateful to the One who gave me life. Ya'll, that's what the Lord does. He's not chasing us down and yelling insults at us because we have withheld His rightful praise. He has every right to, but that's not who He is. He gently beckons us to come be reminded of His goodness. Of His mercy. Of His grace. Of His patience. Of His kindness. Those are the reasons we can be grateful. He is constant when all else is changing. That is why we are able to experience joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the face of despair. It's because of Him- and only Him. Our gratitude is a reflection of our God, not of our circumstances.
In our culture it is very easy to get caught in the "bigger and better" trap. With our jobs, our cars, our bank accounts, our houses, our kids... the list goes on. We rarely ever acheive satisfaction because our eyes are always fixed on the next thing... the bigger thing... the better thing... what someone else has. In my previous blog I talked about our longings and how our response should be the same whether God gives us what we long for or whether He doesn't, and I do think it is worth saying again that God expects, and deserves, our gratitude regardless of what He gives or doesn't give. Because our gratitude is grafted into who He is, not what He does. When He answers our prayers the way we want Him to, gratitude is the rightful response. When He answers our prayers in a time or way different than we would like, gratitude is the rightful response. His commands are always for our good, and in commanding us to give thanks, He knew that not expressing gratitude correctly would have consequences. All sin does. A lack of gratitude in our lives magnifies a lack of love for the Lord in our hearts. See, gratitude is an inside job. It cannot be conjured up simply by cleaning up the outside or creating a particular circumstance. Gratitude begins in our hearts. We are grateful because of who God is to us and for us, despite anything else He ever does for us. We live out our gratitude in the way that we worship, the way that we serve, the way that we love others, etc. All of those things stem from our well of gratitude. Sometimes when we aren't doing those things well, we need to check our gratitude well and see if we have allowed the world to creep in and water down our gratefulness. Because life does that sometimes. Living out gratitude is not our natural first response. We are prone to whine. We are born gripers. When sin entered the scene with Adam and Eve, it skewed our view of good and of God, and the process of correcting that view is lifelong. Ungratefulness rears its head any time we think of God to be less good than He is and any time we think anything else is more good than it is.
Scripture reminds us to give thanks in ALL circumstances (1Thess. 5:18) and in WHATEVER we do (Col. 3:17). Not some- ALL. Not in some things- WHATEVER. That's a lot. Like, all the time. What does that look like practically? How does correcting our understanding of gratitude change our daily life? I can tell you from my own experience that it will rock your world to see everything as a "get to" rather than a "have to." God gave us commands that we GET to comply with. That sounds contrary to what I said earlier about gratitude being optional, but bear with me. It isn't.
God gives us free will to choose whether or not we will obey Him. So although thankfulness is a command, we personally have the option to not do it. I've lived a lot of life believing that I didn't have to be grateful. And I don't. But here's the kicker: God doesn't stop being good just because I stop being grateful. There will be consequences for my ungratefulness, and much of that will be my own joy. My relationship with God and with people suffered tremendously for every day that I spent with the wrong perspective of gratitude. But also, lets say our lack of gratitude continues. That we get to the end of our lives and one of two things happen: we die and go to Heaven and realize that God is so much more wonderful than we believed He was and we only begin to really express our gratitude then, OR we die and go to Hell and realize that God is so much more wonderful than we believed and that we will never ever get another chance to thank Him or praise Him for what He has done. Those are our only options, y'all. That's it. There is no other possibility. Jesus tells us in Luke 19:40 that if we don't praise Him, the rocks will! Everything in all of creation was intended for the glory of God- to give Him thanks! It's what the birds do when they chirp! It's what the bees do when they buzz! It's what the dogs do when they bark! It's what the trees do when they bloom! It's what the lion does when it roars! And it's what we do when we give THANKS! When we have money in the bank, and when we don't! When we get the job, and when we don't! When the diagnosis is good, and when it isn't! When our longings get fulfilled, and when they don't! When we see God for who He is, our response will be gratitude. It's what we were made for! Every role, title, opportunity, choice, decision, etc that God gives me is a chance to proclaim His praise and give Him thanks! I don't have to, but I GET to! That's how our daily lives are transformed! We get to serve. We get to lead and love our families. We get to have a to-do list. We get to exercise. We get to go to work. We get to go to church. We get to love on people like God loves on us. We GET to.
We get to be grateful. We get to approach God's throne with thanksgiving. We get to celebrate a holiday tomorrow realizing maybe for the very first time that gratitude is more than an option and more than an attitude. It is a heart conditon. It is a direct response to how we see God. Friends, don't let another day pass without telling God how thankful you are that He sent Jesus to live and die a perfect life so that we may know Him. Jesus is the ultimate gift and the ultimate reason to be thankful. If you've never given God the gratitude He deserves, today is not too late.
My current favorite song is "Available" by Elvevation Worship, and this line has been on repeat in my heart for weeks:
"For the One who gave me life
nothing is a sacrifice...."
Compared to the sacrifice of Jesus- He who knew no sin becoming sin for us- nothing at all that He asks of us is a true sacrifice. We give so much of our time, effort, and heart to things that will never matter in eternity. We make "sacrifices" for so much else in life. If you don't hear anything else- hear this: Don't let gratitude be the thing you sacrifice. Don't let your hustle, your hurry, your exhaustion or your excitement of the holiday season override your thanfulness to the One who truly give us reason to celebrate every single day. Don't let the rocks cry out in your place.
He is worthy. He is good. We get to be grateful. We get to.
Happy Thanksgiving, Ya'll
Until next time,