Gratitude :: by Don McGee

Among those traits found in the so-called civilized world during these last days is ingratitude (2 Timothy 3). We understand that ingratitude has always been around, but in an earlier times it was easily identified and was frowned upon. Parents taught their children the basic virtues of patience and appreciation.

Today that is not so much the case. But being grateful has its God-given place in the home, in church, in society and in a person’s heart. Remove the virtue of gratitude and everything defaults to a state of foul dysfunction.

For many people there are few things that make their anger burn more swiftly than ingratitude. To help the downtrodden, to give support to the weak and to offer relief to the sick are things most people are glad to do. But when such aid is greedily taken with no thought of being thankful it causes even the most benevolent among us to rise up in righteous indignation toward the ungrateful freeloader.

Contrary to the socialist ideal, appeasing the ungrateful through things like the redistribution of wealth does not solve the problem of want, nor is it good stewardship on the part of those doing the giving.

In chapter one of Deuteronomy Moses addressed this problem. His words are not in context of New Testament salvation, but they describe the dutiful response of a blessed people to their benevolent God who brought them out of Egyptian slavery and who promised to fight for them in the Promised Land.

However, instead of being thankful, the Israelites grumbled toward God and actually accused Him of being hateful. To make matters worse they did not trust Him for victory over the pagans and giants in the Promised Land, but chose rather to send spies to see if they could actually take the land themselves, as if conquering it would be by their own strength!

November is that time of year when we Americans take time to publicly express our appreciation to God for His blessings and for helping us conquer our own giants. It is true that historical revisionists who write text books for public school systems have skewed the truth about Thanksgiving and have separated official celebrations from God, but their revisions do not change the facts.

We know what is the truth, and we proclaim it without regard to the bemoaning of the secularists. But the point is that we officially, as a nation, are just as guilty as the ancient Israelites in insulting God by consuming with wild abandon His blessings with no consideration of their Source. Mark it on the wall, this practice has not slipped His notice.

For most of us Thanksgiving is one of those special fall festivity days when we eat plentifully, visit with family and squeeze every drop of fun and memories we can out of the day. Nothing wrong with that. But the blemish on the holiday is that little time is taken to talk about God’s bountiful provision and our health and the roofs over our heads and clean water and warm clothes and all the rest of it.

The prayer before the meal is often canned like the “God is great, God is good…” thing, or the “Bless us, Oh Lord…” thing. Cell phones are usually not silenced because someone somewhere might need to talk to us about an urgent situation, and such a phone call says to all those gathered that we really are important. With very rare exceptions, for people to sit around a table with their phones in their hands is not only rude but juvenile.

Have you ever watched a spoiled, untaught child rip through wrappings to open a gift only to throw it down and rip through the next one without even acknowledging the giver? That is a child-sized action to illustrate an adult-sized attitude about Thanksgiving these days. It has a way of reeking in God’s nostrils.

Oh, how we have gone backward since our humble beginnings! The Pilgrims were not just thankful for material provision, but for every blessing from liberty to rain and sunshine in their season. Complete dependence upon God has a way of making even the seemingly most insignificant event a great blessing.

Many years ago I had the privilege of hearing Navy Captain Gerald Coffee speak about his 7 years as a POW in the hellhole known as Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi. Every airman in Vietnam knew about the place, and cringed at the thought of being captured and sent there. I sat spell-bound listening to Coffee’s story, and one of the things that impressed me so greatly was his gratitude to God for some of the normally repulsive things found in “The Hanoi Hilton.”

For example, he was thankful for the weevils in his very meager portion of stale, moldy bread that the men were given occasionally. Why? Because he and the other POWs got little to eat from their Communist tormentors, and those little bugs were small pieces of life-sustaining protein. Can you imagine being thankful for a weevil?
At any other time a glass of water is just a glass of water, but being confined and in want will cause a man to sing praises to God from the depths of his soul for a simple glass of water. It seems that sincere thanksgiving is in direct proportion to our recognition of God’s provision in our despair and helplessness.

So what should thanksgiving look like? Lots of things.

Sounds cheesy, but to be thankful is to be glad in the Lord. David said in Psalm 92:1 and 4:

“It isgood to give thanks to theLord And tosing praises to Your name, O Most High…For You, OLord, have made me glad bywhat Youhave done, I willsing for joy at theworks of Your hands.”

People who take everything for granted know nothing of being joyful. They may be found in relative states of happiness, but they are not joyful. Being happy is based upon circumstances, but being joyful is based upon knowing the Lord. Did Paul and Silas sing in the Philippian jail (Acts 16) because they were happy to be in chains and in pain, or did they sing because of their joy in serving God?

This points to something we don’t think much about. A man can have sufficient food to sustain life, but if a captor can break his spirit the end is near because he has lost hope and his sense of purpose. On the other hand, if a man can hold to his God-given purpose and his conviction of hope associated with that purpose then his chances of survival are increased greatly. You can be grateful for a bug in your bread if you know God put it there to sustain you for His purposes.

To be thankful helps break down laws of self-righteous legalism (Colossians 2:16ff). Nothing puts a damper on gratitude like living under a religious, tyrannical system of self-abasement. Such a system does not in any way make a person righteous in God’s sight, and it destroys any joy and appreciation of life under God’s grace. Lest someone misunderstand, this is not license to live as you wish.

Rather, it means that keeping some ecclesiastical law imposed upon you by some church is simply another burden to bear. It rejects the fact that our salvation is by grace through faith, thus it robs people of peace. Grace takes our salvation out of the hands of a church with an ecclesiastical hierarchy that is steeped in liturgy.

It was never meant to be there in the first place, but in the propitiatory blood of Jesus Christ. Among all God’s blessings, being free in Christ is among the greatest and should be a regular object of our thanksgiving.

Hebrews 12:28, 29 says, “Therefore, since we receive akingdom which cannot be shaken, let usshow gratitude, by which we mayoffer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;forour God is a consuming fire.”

It is kind of difficult to know where to begin with these verses because they say so much.
The fact that God’s is a kingdom that cannot be shaken should cause us to be grateful. Much is in mind here regarding the kingdom, for it includes the Church and also His kingdom which is coming upon this earth, too. No matter what happens on this earth, it is temporary and those who are behind what is happening are just as temporary.

You don’t like what your see here and now? That is good, for neither does God. Further, at the proper time He is going to shake this earth and its mortal leadership like nothing ever before. And we may be thankful that what we now see is not what will soon be.

I find it amusing that when mortals assume leadership (elected or bureaucratic) they often begin to think they are really big cogs in a big wheel. They think that because they can, in a temper tantrum issue an executive order, or something similar that affects our God-given rights and responsibilities as Christians, that they are really in control of things.

The great God of heaven laughs (Psalm 2) at their puny insolence. Soon, He is going to shake them and their little fiefdoms like rag dolls. There is an element of strong satisfaction for Christians in our hope for the future; a satisfaction that will triumphantly validate our present convictions in the faces of those who mock our hope and blaspheme our God.

From the pagan religions that have proliferated across this planet to those bastardized forms of Christianity that have deceived billions—they will all become religious chaff fit only for the furnace in much the same way the world’s empires of Daniel 2 will become dust.

Does any person who has thought this through actually believe that somebody somewhere can save this world from inevitable ruin? Further, does anyone really believe this world is on anything but a course to ruin? I think not. What problem of global proportions can humanity solve? I think none.

Referring to those soon coming days when God will give the world over to mankind and the evil one, Jesus said that if those days were not cut short no life would be saved (Matthew 24:22). That means we are to be thankful that what God is bringing to this planet is superior to everything we know today.

Christians are to work toward a world of righteous stability and liberty as we can, while at the same time we are to be grateful that our hopes will see fruition by what God will do, not by what human leadership will do.

When we think about it we realize that there is far more for which to be thankful than material things, though those things are important. But, to understand that God is overruling in the affairs of humanity and that He will vindicate His Word and His people is an awesome thing to anticipate

On any number of occasions young people have asked if they should bring children into the world. For most of them, after they marry and reconsider the question, the answer comes more easily. Combining their growing faith with the natural desire to have and love children, they are no longer intimidated by the world as they were when they were younger.

But, if I were to answer that question apart from the Bible my answer might be different, for politicians offer no real hope. Will it be very long before a man can no longer adequately protect and provide for his family? That question is not so easily brushed off as it once was.

Yes, we could see problems, but we can thank God daily that He walks with us despite the hell breaking loose around us. Further, we can rejoice that the Church will not see the tribulation described by Jesus in Matthew 24.

So, enjoy the holiday with your family. And maybe spend some time before the big meal to give each person a chance to describe something for which they are thankful. That kind of thing has a way of making family memories that are not soon forgotten.