Why should there be just one day each year when we give thanks?
People often remark at Christmastime how nice it would be if the kinder, gentler, more giving attitudes we see during the season would carry over to the rest of the year. I feel the same way about Thanksgiving. Why should there be just one day each year when we give thanks? Why can't we have an attitude of gratitude all year long?
One day many years ago I came home to find that my house had been robbed. The perpetrators were not content to steal what they could find. They also vandalized the house. Hundreds of books were pulled from the bookshelves and many were torn in two. Many other senseless acts of vandalism were also immediately apparent. I went to the desk where my phone sat to call the police, only to find that it, too, had been stolen!
And I was grateful.
Grateful? Grateful for what? Many things came to mind immediately. First, that although my house had changed drastically, God had not changed. I was also grateful that I had not been home when the robbery took place, because it is likely that someone would have been hurt. I was grateful that the burglars had not found or destroyed many items that were important to me. I could go on, but you get the picture.
One of the most often misquoted Scriptures is I Thessalonians 5:18: "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." People often say that we are supposed to be grateful FOR everything. In fact, I just found a website written by a clergyman where he puts forth that very idea: "An attitude of gratitude - that is, being grateful for EVERYTHING God sends us - is a key to praying effectively."
What a difference a small preposition makes. There is a world of difference in being grateful IN every situation as opposed to being grateful FOR every situation. You will notice that in the list of things I was grateful for following the robbery, I did not mention the robbery itself.
Recently several of my friends and fellow church members have lost family members that they loved. I didn't counsel any of them to be grateful that their loved one had died. That would have been foolish. But we have had conversations about the good that has come out of the situation: relationships restored, families drawn closer.
So, with that important bit of theology out of the way, we can concentrate on what it means to be grateful IN every situation.
God wants us to have an attitude of gratitude. He doesn't like whining and complaining. Look at what He had to say to the children of Israel when they whined about their circumstances after He delivered them out of bondage in Egypt. God had done many miracles to free them from slavery and bring them into their own land, but they complained because everything wasn't easy.
"And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?"(Numbers 14:1-4).
Instead of being grateful for all God had done, they complained! And God said to Moses, "How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be before they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them? Numbers 14:10,11. In other words, "Enough with the whining. How about a little gratitude?"
Another verse that is often misquoted is Romans 8:28, "For we know that all things work together for good for them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose." Instead, people (even some uneducated preachers) will say, "Well this terrible thing that just happened to you must be the will of God, because the Bible says that everything that happens to us is for our good."
That is NOT what Romans 8:28 says! It doesn't say that bad things are God's will. It says that He will make ALL things (good and bad) work TOGETHER so that the OUTCOME is good. He knows how to take things that were meant to do us harm, and turn them around so that the final outcome is in His plan and is in our best interest.
When you put these two verses together, you find that we indeed have much for which we can (and should be!) grateful.
When we know (not hope, but know beyond any doubt) that The Creator of the Universe is in charge of our lives, and takes time out of His busy schedule to make sure that everything is working together for our good, it is easy to give thanks in every situation. That doesn't mean that we are going to be happy that a loved one has died, or that the first new car we ever bought was totaled in an accident a few days after we bought it.
It does mean that when we love God and walk in His will, we know that God constantly watches over us. Therefore, we can have confidence that everything will be fine in the end, because He loves us so much.
So cultivate an attitude of gratitude. According to all the research, you will be happier and healthier. And the people around you will appreciate it as well.
Dr. Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 30 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by over fifty thousand weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.