This week is the beginning of the holiday season in North America and the beginning of a season of gratitude. But if you have been reading my blogs you know that gratitude is something that I have been consciously practicing for the last two years, prompted by “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Gratitude has been strong on my mind today as I have contemplated the sermon husband, Flynn A. Smith, delivered at church yesterday, “A Grateful Life.” He noted that the command to give thanks is one of the most repeated commands in the Bible, the sheer volume of passages pointing to our need for constant reminding. His sermon was rich in detail about 1) the fact that we, in general, are ungrateful; 2) our need to be grateful; 3) the result of our ingratitude; and 4) what we can do to become more grateful. As soon as the recording is available, I will place it here on the blog, but for now know that Flynn emphasized that gratitude should come from the heart and not just be obligatory words off our lips. When we don’t give sincere thanks, the person may not know we aren’t being sincere but God knows and ultimately He is who we offend:
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”(James 1:17).
When we receive good gifts, even those we don’t want, they come from God. And though some gifts that we receive aren’t good, we still need to show grace to others and truly be thankful to God. “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Our reflection on how many gifts throughout our lives that God has given should prompt us to give Him thanks with ease no matter what we are presently experiencing. This giving of thanks should be personal and not solely rely on what God has done for others. When we focus on others, we can miss the mark on showing gratitude either by trying to assume the faith of others or by condemning others. When we ourselves don’t “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) in order to build a track record of trust in the Lord we may find ourselves looking to those strong in faith and thank god for what we know He has done for them. While that is okay, we need to be able to give thanks on our own behalf. Other times we see others who may not be where we are in a certain area, and we may have disdain for them. I was a part of a conversation recently where some women were ridiculing these parents for letting their children stand on the restaurant seats and eat only bread. They discussed how they would have handled the children if they were in charge of them and what behavior they wouldn’t allow. In essence, they were thankful that they weren’t like those parents, and their attitude reminded me of the Pharisee in the following scripture, the basis for this week’s challenge to love in a radical way:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
Based on his scale, this Pharisee thought he was righteous in comparison to others he considered vile. His sight on his “perfection” blinded him to see that God honors the humble, those who, regardless of their position, recognize their need for God, when they were a parenting-, career-, friendship, etc. wreck. When we see others who don’t seem as mature as we are in an area, we should thank God for teaching us during our clueless days and perhaps ask Him how we might help that person. It is always easier to criticize than to strategize because strategizing takes intentional time and extra physical energy. But out of gratitude to God, let’s offer a hand instead of pointing a finger. Doing so, especially if we have the tendency to operate like the Pharisee, is truly a radical act of love.
Take a Risk Challenge: Identify someone that you have wagged a finger at in shame and strategize how you can offer your help to them in gratitude for how God helped you.