Simple gratitude

It occurred to me recently that for the last four years, every morning I pressed the ignition of my car, the car sprung into life. Yet, it rarely occurred to me to thank God that my day wasn’t disrupted by unexpected car trouble. It made me realise that I take many things in my life for granted. I take for granted that I can breathe unaided, especially at a time when thousands of people around the world have needed ventilators to breathe. I take my sight for granted; I take my hearing for granted; I take my ability to read and write for granted, and so on. Like most people, I could list numerous things that I take for granted. Yet, my life would be indescribably different if I was illiterate, blind, deaf or facing any of the challenges which many have to live with today. 

Like some, I’ll admit in my sober moments that many people would give up everything they own for some of the things in my life I take for granted. Sadly, acknowledging this rarely results in a paradigm shift for many of us. Instead, we often give a cursory nod to the sentiment and turn our attention to more pressing matters. For instance, as a parent, I sometimes take having healthy children for granted. Mercifully, I’m often reminded that many couples can’t have children, and some parents have children who spend more time in hospital than they do at home. I often wonder how many of my current problems would remain significant if one of my kids was in hospital with a life-threatening illness.

On reflection, it seems too many of us are like Goldilocks, waiting for our circumstances to be just right before we can be thankful. But, life is seldom just right. The fortunate ones amongst us may experience brief seasons when everything is just right, but those moments are fleeting. Moreover, Jesus warned us that in this world, we will encounter trouble [John 16:33]. Therefore, a life that isn’t just right shouldn’t be a surprise. But that’s only half the story because Jesus left us another promise that is as certain as the fact that we’ll encounter difficult circumstances in life. He told us that He has already overcome any trouble we’ll ever face. Consequently, we can approach life as conquerors, knowing that our triumph over the worst of life is assured [Romans 8:37]. That’s as good a reason as any to be grateful.

Our challenge, therefore, is to cultivate a life of gratitude and thanksgiving irrespective of our circumstances. We can easily succumb to ingratitude by trivialising what’s going well in our lives and exacerbating what isn’t. But, isn’t it interesting how the absence of something that we take for granted brings its importance into focus? Moreover, in my opinion, one of the consequences of ingratitude is its propensity to hinder our desire to praise God. Without genuine gratitude, our songs of praise to God are mere lip service because it’s difficult to praise God with an ungrateful heart. Worst still, when we fail to express our gratitude to God for all He has done for us, we risk taking God’s daily mercies for granted [Lamentations 3:22-23]. When we do this, we behave like the nine lepers Jesus healed who never came back to thank Him [Luke 17:11-19].

With that said, how does a person cultivate a life of gratitude? We can learn a lot from our biblical ancestors, especially the psalmists. They recognised God’s sovereign hand behind their good fortune, and His ability to redeem and save when calamity struck. Prosperity, good health, deliverance, fruitful harvests and so on were all signs of God’s provision for them. They discerned that every good thing in their lives came from the Giver of every good gift [2 Corinthians 9:8]. So, in response, they offered up praise and thanksgiving as a way of life. When things went wrong, they would often complain bitterly to God. Nevertheless, they also knew God to be all-powerful, righteous and just, willing and able to come to their aid. They knew God would always act on account of His faithfulness and covenant love for them. This was a source of great hope and comfort, and in response, they offered up praise and thanksgiving as a way of life. Consequently, for them, only the dead were exempt from praising God [Psalm 150:6]. 

A key lesson for me from observing the psalmists is that my understanding of God’s sovereignty and character will significantly impact my response to the situations I experience. It will also inform my attitude towards life. When I appreciate that I’m a flawed person, living among flawed people in a broken world, I will be more thankful for each day that passes with no serious calamity befalling me. I’ll be grateful to God for shielding me from the myriad of incidents that could disrupt my day or fundamentally change my life for the worse. I would count my blessings rather than take them for granted or feel entitled to the life I have or the life I think I deserve. Furthermore, I would realise that God never promised me an easy life. So, rather than revert to an ugly attitude when life is less than perfect, I can humbly ask God for grace to weather the storm, knowing that His grace is always sufficient [2 Corinthians 12:9].

It may sound cliché, but every person alive has a reason to be grateful. Of course, there are circumstances where being thankful can be exceedingly challenging. I would never trivialise such experiences. But, if you can find the strength to praise God while you’re in the pit, then you can be confident that He will respond because God inhabits the praises of His people [Psalm 22:3].

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