Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Gratitude for Christ
In less than two weeks it will be Thanksgiving Day once again. That day begins four weeks stuffed full of events, culminating on Christmas Day. Then, ironically, many will be thankful that the busy holiday season is over. The holiday season places a rather conditional spin on the theme of Thanksgiving. We hope that we will be thankful—assuming that everything works out the way we have anticipated. We will be thankful if the major meals and events of the season go off without a hitch. We will be thankful if that certain annoying relative is not quite so annoying this year. We will be thankful if the year-end bonus is what we hoped for. We will be thankful if we get most of the Christmas presents we would like. We will be thankful if everyone pitches in and helps with all the work that has to be done.
In contrast, God’s idea of thanksgiving is not dependent upon your events and circumstances. Paul tells the Thessalonians that thanksgiving is to be a recognizable quality of their lives as Christians, regardless of conditions. It is God’s will that you, too, be thankful in all circumstances. If you are not, your life will be less than glorifying to God. Your life will center around yourself–and that is a recipe for holiday discouragement. Gratitude must to identify you as a person. For this to occur, at least three truths must frame your understanding of gratitude:
First truth: gratitude is based upon unchanging facts, not changing circumstances.
God's goodness to you is never in doubt. Ephesians 1:7-8 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” This blessing is certain. Paul says it has already happened. Redemption belongs to you as God’s child and you will never lose it. No circumstance can change this certain reality–so no circumstance of this life should diminish your gratitude for God’s grace. The holidays are filled with circumstances that stand in contrast to the rest of the year. Do NOT let uncertain circumstances diminish the joy of God’s faithfulness to you.
Second truth: gratitude is based upon commitment, not performance.
The gospel is all about God’s commitment to you. God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession” (Eph. 1:14). By implication, the gospel means that you don’t have to evaluate the performance of others to determine whether or not you can be thankful. Think about it. How often does discouragement come from what you view as the flawed performances of others? …If only my wife were not so demanding; if only my kids were not so selfish, if only… If your gratitude could be measured on a graph over time, it might tend to be as up-and-down as the stock market averages. This is not God’s will for you. His will is gratitude. The more you focus on the performance of others, the less you will be dominated by gratitude.
Third truth: gratitude is based upon mercy, not expectations.
The story of the ungrateful servant in Matthew 18:23-35 demonstrates what happens when you lose sight of the mercy of God that has been given to you. When you lose sight of the mercy of God, you will be more critical when those around you do not meet your expectations. You will be dominated by discouragement and even bitterness, instead of mercy and compassion. God extends mercy and compassion to you even when you fall far short of his commands. Mercy is not something you extend because someone has pleased you. Mercy is unmerited favor. Yet, when your expectations are not met, isn't there a natural drive of the flesh to be hurt and to withdraw—or even to demand retribution? Where is gratitude? Gratitude should flow from the mercy extended to you. Then, gratitude becomes the source of mercy (rather than hurt feelings) when others struggle and fail. Times when your expectations are disappointed provide an opportunity for you to show kindness, compassion and mercy—actions that are perhaps unexpected, but holy.
Gratitude is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. You can be thankful for all that God has given you, including the struggles of those you love most. May we all show true gratitude this holiday season, gratitude that anticipates eternity.
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