Dobri Dobrev looks like a stereotypical homeless man. His grey hair and beard are long and matted. His clothes are old and threadbare. He is 100 years old and lost most of his hearing during World War II. Dobrev lives 15 miles outside of Sofia, Bulgaria, and rides the bus into town every day to beg from the people who live there. I'm sure those who pass him assume he is like any other beggar they have seen. But they would be wrong.
Dobrev lives off his monthly pension of 80 euros (about $100) and gives everything he receives to churches and orphanages. He once donated $24,000 to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. He explains: "We must not lie, nor steal, nor commit adultery. We must love each other as God loves us."
Thursday is Thanksgiving, the only holiday in America that is required by Scripture. Nowhere are we commanded to observe Christmas or Easter (every Sunday is to be Resurrection Day), though both can obviously glorify our Father when celebrated for his glory. But the Bible mandates that we "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Note the little word "all." What circumstance makes thanksgiving difficult for you today? Does Scripture suggest that pain, grief, guilt or worry are good things? Obviously not. We are told to give thanks "in" all circumstances, not "for" them. Why?
Gratitude in hard places does not earn God's favor. It does not obligate him to do what we ask. Nor does it guarantee that our circumstances will turn out as we wish. God raised Joseph from the prison to the palace, but he did not remove Paul's "thorn in the flesh" despite the apostle's repeated pleas (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were blessed with great financial resources, but Jesus' apostles were all martyred (excepting John, who was exiled and persecuted). Despite what we sometimes hear, Scripture nowhere promises that our faith will always be rewarded as we wish.
Rather, grateful expectancy positions us to receive what God's grace intends to give. We see this principle at work in other ways every day. For instance, you needed enough faith in me and our ministry to open and read today's Cultural Commentary. You believed that this essay would not waste your time, or transmit a virus, or contain ungodly language or images. Such faith did not earn this essay—it received it. In the same way, when we thank God for the ways he will redeem our challenges, trusting his "good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2), we are then able to receive his best for us.
So name the circumstance that makes thanksgiving hardest for you today. Ask God to redeem it for his glory and your good, and know that he will. The world may think you're a beggar, but God knows you're a child of the King. And he always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him.
Publication date: November 25, 2014
For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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