Gratitude

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Among the pantheon of American holidays, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that has most resisted becoming secularized or diluted. What lies at the heart of the holiday is a fellowship meal: sitting around a table with family and friends to focus on our blessings.

Robert Roberts reminds us that gratitude is first and foremost a matter of perspective – it’s a unique way of looking at the world around us. So, let me describe what that means. You should know, gratitude always involves three factors. 

First, there is a…

1.) Benefit: Good things are coming my way 

The word benefit derives from the old Latin word “bene” which means "good." So, in order for me to be grateful, I must first receive something that I perceive as being good for me to receive. The Bible has a lot to say about this. Look at Psalm 103…

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things. Psalm 103.1-5

Our lives are filled with incredible benefits – good things from God. Honestly, we're blind to them most of the time. We take them for granted. We don’t notice them or even appreciate them until they’re gone. Gratitude requires that we open our eyes to see what we’ve been missing.

Sidney Greenberg tells us that when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and went missing for more than two years, more people came to stare at the blank space in the museum where the painting used to hang than had gone to look at that masterpiece in the 12 years prior it had hung there unmolested. That in itself says a lot about our tendency to overlook precious things while we have them.

But let just one of those precious things be taken from our lives and we become painfully aware of the "blank space" on the wall. The truth is the walls of our lives are crowded with Mona Lisas. But we’re not noticing them. We take them for granted. Be grateful that you have them now because you might not have them forever. Or as someone else has said, “Love what you have before life teaches you to love what you lost.”

The second factor of gratitude is a... 

2.) Benefactor: One Who wills the good

So, in order to be grateful, you must not only believe that benefits are coming your way, but also know that they not coming by accident – that they actually come from Somebody. Someone is producing these good things.

The Bible reminds us that each and every one of us has a Great Benefactor. James says it like this… 

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. James 1.17

James tells us a good God exists and the good things that come our way come directly from His generous hand. Anything and everything you call good is from your Father in Heaven. As the saying goes, “God is good all the time – All the time God is good.”

So there has to be a benefit. There has to be a benefactor BUT there also has to be a…

3.) Beneficiary: One who receives the good

That's you! You and I are the beneficiary of the benefits (the good things) that come from a good God in Heaven Who has our best interests at heart. Beneficiaries believe they are receiving something they did not earn or deserve. In other words, they’re humble. The single most important thing a beneficiary does is express their gratitude.

Now get this. Your job is not to try to make yourself feel grateful. Gratitude is the byproduct of a spiritual reality. As I steep myself in God reality, I find myself expressing gratitude even for things I don’t understand and people I find hard to love and situations I find difficult to accept. 

Not because in and of themselves that any of those things are good, but that a good God Who loves me and is at work in my life has promised to take ALL THINGS in my life and work them to my good. That’s what this promise is all about.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8.28

The truth is, if I wait for perfect people and perfect circumstances to be grateful, I’m going to wait forever. One rabbi said that we have to learn to say a benediction at all times because, if not, we’re in danger of being thankful only when good things come our way. The problem with only being thankful when good things happen, then our threshold for gratitude gets higher and higher and eventually we become ungrateful people. Being transformed by God means learning to see ways in which God is at work, even in bad situations. 

A lot of times I've gone through something hard, painful, bad, and the whole time I was wishing I didn't have to go through it. But now I look back on it and say, "O God, I'm so incredibly grateful I didn't miss that. Even though I wouldn’t have wished it on my worst enemy, God what You did IN IT and THROUGH IT and IN ME is priceless beyond belief. So, for the good and the bad and all the stuff in between, we give thanks to the One Who loves us incredibly and works ALL things to our benefit. Happy Thanksgiving!