Let’s face it: we don’t always agree. But I think if we slowed down long enough to look at the big picture, we might find it in ourselves to agree that we have gotten a lot of things wrong. When we decided to claim our independence, our founding fathers said that the United States would be a place where we could fulfill our God-given destiny and right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When I consider what those words have come to mean, I am led to question whether the basis on which a nation was founded is really what God intended for us.
What is happiness, really? There are a lot of things that would make me happy, such as new electronics, a nicer wardrobe, the best car, et cetera. In general, I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with having nice things, or with being happy. The thing is, though, happiness depends on what happens. When circumstances fail to ebb and flow the way we want them to, we find that not only are we not happy any longer, but we become ungrateful and rebellious. Is this really what the Lord wants for us? I must hazard a guess that a selfish sense of happiness is quite nearly the opposite of His desire and will. Instead, He requires that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, loving Him and our neighbors. The Creator wills that we would become like Him. Catch this, friends: Scripture says that God’s will for us is that we would be thankful in all circumstances. Could it be that acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly, exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control begins with thanksgiving? This is more than happiness.
If we look back to the Garden, we see that Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect harmony with each other and with the Father. They were told to be fruitful and multiply, encouraged to drink in and find fulfillment in everything that their Creator gave them. God made one lone tree off limits to the naked couple. As you can imagine, this may have been the origin of much curiosity and conversation between the two. What about this tree somehow separates us from God? The serpent Satan knew his only chance was to tap into this curiosity. He must have told Eve that God was holding out on her. If he could pick the lock by compromising her gratitude, the door would swiftly open, allowing him to corrupt everything that had been created and declared good. This new lack of gratitude within Eve’s heart prompted her to partake, and lead her husband to partake. Thus, the Fall.
The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers in chapter eleven. It is difficult for me to imagine living in a state worse than leprosy. The disease was cause for casting out those it afflicted, the loss of family and livelihood, and ultimately, the loss of connection. The text says Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee when he was met by ten men who had fallen victim to leprosy. They asked Jesus to have mercy on them and heal their ailment, restoring their standing in their families, jobs, and society as a whole. Jesus told them to go to the temple to show themselves to the priests, who were responsible for declaring people to be clean or unclean, and on their way, they were healed. After this miracle, only one of the ten, a Samaritan no less, returned to express his gratitude to Jesus. I love that Scripture makes a point to tell us who this person was. If you do even a little bit of research, you will find that Samaritans were not part of God’s chosen people, nor did they have any claim to fellowship with God. Jesus, taking note of this, replies “has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” He then tells the man “your faith has made you well.” Other translations of Scripture say that he was restored, whole, saved. The one who was thankful was made whole. Could it be that simple?
In Romans, Paul writes that though humanity was aware of the presence of God, we did not glorify Him, nor were we thankful. Because of this lack of glorification and gratitude, Paul goes on to say that our thinking has become futile, and our foolish hearts were darkened. I have to wonder why Paul wouldn’t choose another virtuous characteristic above thankfulness. What is it about gratitude that proves to be the saving ingredient? What is it about ingratitude that proves to be so dangerous and destructive?
Back in the Garden, God gave Adam the task of continuing creation through naming the animals. Power might be defined as the ability to assign meaning. Since the beginning of time, humanity has had the ability to speak worth over God’s creation. When we are thankful for something, it means that we have placed a high value on it.
Perhaps a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, humility, and justice would not be possible without thanksgiving. If you do not recognize the worth of salvation, grace, mercy and the character of God, the likelihood that you will live and walk according to those gifts dramatically declines. If you’re finding it difficult to be thankful, look back to the place you were a year ago, three years ago, five years ago. Chances are you’ve grown a lot. You’ve made a lot of decisions about the course of your life; some of them good, and maybe some of them not so good. If you are haunted by those bad decisions, please know that you have been declared more than a conqueror through Christ, whose blood was shed so you could experience the kingdom. If you’re struggling to figure out what God’s will is for your life, do not fret. It is revealed in the most simple of words in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” The Israelites didn’t build altars because God needed them. They built them to have a monument by which they could remember what the Lord had done for them. They built them as reminders to give thanks.
Yes, it is the will of God that we would give thanks. Bless the Lord in times of plenty and in times of want. This seed, this attitude of gratitude, will grow up. It will blossom and become fruitful. You will find that you are less anxious about God holding out or getting your story wrong when you trust that all things work together for good. Perhaps we Christians throw around that verse too often, subtracting words until it reads “all is good.” Maybe that response has made you bitter toward fellow believers. If this is the case, I pray that God would soften your heart once again; that the hard soil could be plowed and made fertile for His righteousness. Because all is grace.