Cultivating Thankfulness

Rob Schwarzwalder | Family Research Council | Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cultivating Thankfulness

Gratitude is more than listing things for which we are, or should be, thankful. It is an attitude combining thankfulness and humility from which flows verbal iteration of and intellectual reflection upon our blessings.

If you are racking your mind trying to think of “things you’re thankful for” so that at the Thanksgiving table you won’t be caught with little to say, you’re trying too hard. Biblical gratitude begins and continues with a sense of astonishment: that in this vast universe, God became a man, took the punishment I have earned on the cross, rose from the grave for my justification, and now offers meaningful and eternal life to all who will trust in Him as Savior and Lord.

These things will, if understood properly, only deepen one’s thankfulness to Christ throughout his life. As the magnitude of the story of redemption sinks ever deeper into the soul, among the ways it transforms is to create a growing sense of the gravity of our sin and the grandeur of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. For Christians, this is the true fount of every enumerated blessing.

We also assume an awful lot: that our lungs and hearts and other organs will just keep on working, day after day; that when we turn on our faucets, water (hot or cold, depending on our preferences) will come out; that people (generally) will abide by the traffic laws so we’re not all killed in a chaotic jumble of steel and glass; that the supermarket will always have full shelves; and that conveniences (dishwashers, dryers, and refrigerators, for example) will keep humming along (or, if they don’t, that their repair or replacement isn’t that big of a deal).

In other words, we take more for granted than we readily can list. Even the fact that the very molecular structure of our bodies adheres and does not simply fly apart is miraculous. We are told in Hebrews 1 that Jesus “holds all things together by His powerful Word.” He spoke creation into being and sustains it through His ongoing command. Just imagine if He didn’t.

No one can go through life feeling existentially overwhelmed by all God’s good gifts: this would be immobilizing. Rather, one’s attitude should be one of humble, grateful joy for the near-infinite abundance of His spiritual, social, and material blessings. This attitude will provoke thankfulness for myriad things during the course of a given day, and infuse one’s life with a measure of gladness it otherwise would never know.

The more mindful we are of Who God is and what He has done for us, and the more aware we are of our own fallenness and inability to please God without Christ, the more reverent and thankful, both, we will become. The 17th century poet John Milton wrote, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

Thankfulness extends beyond gratitude for those things which bless us. No one is inured to pain, his own or that of someone close to him. As a character in a 1940s Frank Capra movie “Meet John Doe” said, “the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber.” The curse of the fall is all-pervasive, and none of us is immune to it. Our souls and spirits have been redeemed; so have our bodies, but their redemption is one of the future. Until then, we groan – not with rage but pain.

In “The Problem of Pain,” C.S. Lewis reminds us that pain “is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” If life rolled along without bumps and bruises, we would forget our Creator and dismiss our need for a Redeemer and Helper. Ironically, the consequences of our own sin prevent us, at least if we’re honest with ourselves, from such a state of bored and lulling thoughtlessness. Sin keeps obedient Christians cleaving to their Lord for guidance, strength, and hope. Thus, it becomes an unwilling but useful motivator of thankfulness in those redeemed who try to live as such.

God is good in Himself. His blessings and benefits, material and immaterial, are undeserved and too many to enumerate. So, this Thanksgiving and every day of our lives, let’s “give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.

Publication date: November 27, 2013