Thankful or thankless -- which word would you say better describes our society today? It seems like the majority of our culture lives with an attitude of entitlement. People feel they are entitled to better pay, better benefits and more stuff. People feel that if they cannot afford it, then they can rob Peter to pay Paul so to speak, or better yet, have the government pick up the check. The majority never stops to give thanks for what they have, but loudly voices their desire to have more. We have, in many respects, devolved into a society of thankless people, and there are repercussions. The greatest irony in all of this being that – Thanksgiving has been overrun by NoThanksButIAmShopping. For many people, it is about greed…I am going to get something ahead of you. This is just the opposite of Thanksgiving. This is not to say that shopping is evil, just whether greed is dominating our lives, or gratitude. If we are thankful for what we already have, it should help us not to be so needy or greedy. We have enjoyed so many blessings that we have come to expect them. We even have begun to display these same attitudes when it comes to God. People acknowledge God less and less…they don’t give Him honor and glory for their success in business, or as pertains to life in general. They will tell you it’s because of their own hard work that they have accomplished these things. In this familiar passage (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), Paul reveals to us that thankful hearts shows that we are healthy Christians. God expects us to be a thankful people. As Christians, we are called to live counter-culture. With the approach of Thanksgiving, let’s discover how to have a thankful heart in an unthankful world.
There are some important realizations that we must own, if we are to live like Christ. One is that we are not entitled to what we have, but understand they everything is a blessing from God. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) Even at our most economically unstable times, we have so much wealth in the United States that it is easy to take for granted simple blessings. What we consider to be poverty today far exceeds the standard of living that most people enjoyed a century ago. We have gained more possessions for ourselves today than at any other time in history. While a great portion of the world looks at the United States and sees great wealth, many people tend to view it as what we are entitled to for being Americans. If we encounter situations that cause us to have to tighten our belts (so to speak), and our standard of living has to change, we become upset because we feel we are being denied what is rightfully ours. The person who believes that the world owes him a living is not going to be thankful for much. He thinks he is doing others a favor by permitting them to serve him. And allowing others to serve should not be a bad thing…it is good. But, the thankful heart is usually humble…a heart that gladly acknowledges God. When we understand that God is the source of all blessings our natural response should be gratitude. The principle of thanksgiving, including the holiday, allows us the opportunity to put everything in proper perspective and to thank God for His abundant blessings. A truly thankful heart will change our lives. It will keep us from becoming overly critical or constantly complaining. It will draw us closer to our Heavenly Father and make us more conscious of His presence. Thomas Merton wrote, “Gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder, and to praise of the goodness of God.”
Finally, this exhortation by Paul proves our need for the Spirit of God, because in our own strength we could never obey it. Gratitude makes us alive! When we are grateful we realize that God is the source of all our blessings, and this keeps us from complaining or taking blessings for granted. In fact, the word “gratitude” comes from the same root word as “grace.” And “thanksgiving” comes from the same root, as well…they are all connected. If we have experienced the grace of God, then we ought to be grateful for what God brings to us. Where the Spirit reigns, there is gratitude to God, a deep sense of appreciation, and a spontaneous expression of it. Take some time to think about everything that you have, realize that it was God that gave it to you. When we line up our lives with God’s will, we will discover that it will become easier to be joyful and easier to be thankful.