On this Sunday before our national day of Thanksgiving, let’s think a little about the importance of gratitude.
Everyone, young and old, need to learn how to be thankful for their blessings, regardless of how “small” they may be. Although it may seem to those of us who are older that ingratitude has never been as bad as it is today, the truth is that it has been a stain on man’s character from the beginning. Adam and Eve demonstrated their ingratitude when they deliberately disobeyed God. The nine lepers healed by Jesus failed to show their thankfulness for his great gift. Some in my generation placed very little value on the sacrifices of Vietnam veterans (just as some do today). Although all of us are guilty of this failing to some degree, we should be repelled by its ugliness and rudeness.
In contrast to the ugliness of ingratitude is the exquisite beauty of even the most simple gesture of appreciation: like Abraham’s long line of altars in Canaan, built to gratefully worship his God; or like the appreciation offered by Hannah and Mary for their sons, Samuel and Jesus; and like the thankfulness with which we participate together in the Lord’s supper each Lord’s day.
Adults need to remember the importance of the example set for children. The title of the old poem is true: “Children Live What They Learn.” If they see the spirit of gratitude in the adults around them, they are more likely to grow up to be appreciative adults. Many children don’t get a complete education growing up, because they aren’t taught to say “Thank you,” or “No, thank you.” One of the early lessons Jesus learned from his parents was the significance of Passover, which was essentially a celebration of Thanksgiving. (See Luke 2)
Now comes the big question. How can we become more thankful for the Lord’s blessings? Just a few suggestions:
1) Remember thanksgiving must be more than a one-day-a-year observance. If we express gratitude only once every 365 days, can we say we’re thankful at all?!
2) Learn the difficult yet important lesson of finding something to be grateful for in everything that happens. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Thess. 5:16-18; Cf. Rom. 8:28) Bible expositor Adam Clark reportedly said after he was robbed that he could think of three things for which to be thankful: he was alive; he didn’t lose much; he wasn’t the thief. Although he struggled with the question the more time past, Job said to his wife early on, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)
3) Recognize God as a loving father who always does what is best for us, even in his correction of us. “...God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10) A difficult but vital lesson is that God knows what is best, and we don’t. Too often we forget the warning of Solomon: “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25)
4) By being willing to express appreciation to other people as well as to God. One writer offered this simple suggestion as to how we can learn to show others how valuable they are: “Look for little things for which you can express appreciation. Rare and refreshing is the person who goes on a “treasure hunt” for little things that slip by unnoticed.”
The philosopher Aesop said that genuine appreciation is the “sign of noble souls.”And an anonymous business man wisely said, “Appreciation is the oil that keeps the machinery of human relations running smoothly.”
Of course, the greatest way we can demonstrate our gratitude to God is by our obedience to his will. (John 14:15)