What does it mean to be thankful? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Thankfulness. What is it? Is it really that big of a deal? We live in an age today where we don’t really take the time to think about all the good things that we have. Our ancestors would be amazed that rather than go out and hunt for a meal or work for hours in a garden, we can just go the store and pick up something. Heck. We even have something called “fast food.” You can go and place an order at a restaurant and you can have a meal within a minute. (Although I do contend that sometimes fast food is a relative term.) Many of us today in our society are not struggling with not having food. Many of our pets even eat better than our ancestors did.
We also live in houses or apartments or some place that has a roof over our head. We sleep in beds and we have pillows. Earlier this year we did have a snowstorm where I live and not once in all of that were we fearing for our lives. Oh sure we were inconvenienced, but that’s about it. I could say I feared for my personal safety going down the steps at our house, but it was never a question of us asking “Are we going to survive this winter?”
If my wife and I decided to have a child together, there would no doubt be pain involved in childbirth, but there would not be great fear on Allie’s part that she would die in child labor. Why? Because you can go and receive constant medical treatment. You can even receive treatment for the pain of childbirth so it can be made as painless as possible. I happen to have a steel rod on my spine. It was painful, but imagine the wonder that we can do an operation like that today and today, I do function quite well for someone with a steel rod. How much medicine has advanced in our culture.
Travel is something else as well. While in Biblical times, Paul would spend months trying to traverse the Roman Empire, we could go through the whole of it in about a week if we really wanted to. If you wanted to just cover the distance, you could fly over it. Paul’s voyage in the Mediterranean years ago would never have happened in our society where boating is much easier. Sure there are still accidents at times, but these make the news because they are so exceptional.
Knowledge is also incredibly abundant for us. We can go to a library easily and get books and most all of us take our ability to read for granted. We ask about the ancient world “Why didn’t anyone write this stuff down?” because we so take it for granted that writing is the best way to get a message across. If we want a quick answer, we pop open our phones or tablets and just google our questions. Unfortunately, this can also lead to great ignorance as we don’t often know how to evaluate the information, but the possibility is there.
What about our personal relationships? Today, many of us in the West marry for love. That’s actually a recent innovation. Most in the past would have been interested in survival. That we can marry and marry for love is something amazing. Many people can make it through life just fine without having to get married. This is again something that we have taken for granted.
We can also interact with our friends so much easier who are far away. Thanks to technology like Facebook, I could instantly connect with and speak with high school friends of mine if I wanted to. I can use a phone and talk to most anyone all over the world. I do a show regularly through the medium of Skype and I can communicate with a known scholar practically immediately. What an age.
And even down to our entertainment, we have far more. We can go and watch a movie on a huge screen. We don’t have to wait on actors to show up in a play, although we can do that. We can watch a television show and we can have it recorded so that we can watch it again and again and again. We even have video games so we can play our games on a screen and have characters move in response to what we do. How amazing is all of this?!
And you know what?
We probably live in one of the least grateful times of all.
This is especially the case for we who are Christians. Right now, we live in a time of great freedom. Yes. We think that time of freedom could be nearing an end, but you know what? We lived with it for so long that we took it for granted. Many of us have not studied our Bibles because we do not consider the wonder that we have one. Go to a civilization where Christians are persecuted and imagine what some of them would do if they had just a page of Scripture. While many people the world over would love to have a Bible, we have many versions and translations all around us and many of them are collecting dust.
As someone with my own ministry that relies on donations, I remember my first thought was to go to the churches and see if they’d be willing to support. I was told not to. Why? Because the churches do not give. They will not support an apologetics ministry. I’ve found this to be the case quite often unfortunately. Churches have no real interest most of the time in an apologetics ministry. For many of us with ministries, we like to reap the harvest that has been planted, but we don’t want to take part in tilling in the garden at all. No doubt, there are many generous people out there, but it looks like many of us are not.
So how serious is thankfulness Biblically? Romans 1 is one of the hardest hitting passages on the wickedness of humanity. What does verse 21 say?
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Part of the darkening was not giving thanks to God.
So what are we to give thanks for?
Every single thing.
Give thanks for the big things and the small things. Sometimes we speak of parking lot theology where God specifically answers a prayer for you to get a parking space close to the door of where you’re shopping. It’s laughable to think God is micromanaging the universe, but if you really need that and you get one, give thanks. If you don’t get one, give thanks that you can walk and build up some exercise. If any good thing comes to you, give thanks for it. But you know what? Scripture goes further.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
Did you hear that? Give thanks for suffering! That does not mean you view the suffering as a good thing in itself. Of course not. But if you’re a Christian, you are to know that God is using that suffering for your good. The question is are you going to resist it or not? Lately for instance, I’m trying to catch myself when I find myself worrying about something. Worry is a sin after all and I try to think “You know what? Worrying about this problem is not making it go away. It is not helping it. All it is doing is changing me for the worse.” Why worry then?
But why give thanks for the suffering? James tells us that God uses it to mature us and make us wise. How about Hebrews 12:7-11?
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Look at the end of verse 10. “In order that we may share in His holiness.” God does this so you can be like Him. That is why you are disciplined. Isn’t that something good to go through in the long run then?
1 Peter 1:6-7.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Why suffering? So your faith may be proven genuine.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Our suffering will lead to hope. We will learn to rely on God all the more in suffering. It’s quite sad to think that many of us who live in an affluent society like America and have so much are so depressed, when I am told that poor Christians all over the world who live in poverty often have much more joy than we do and celebrate the goodness of God much more than we do.
That should embarrass us.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This is quite likely one of the greatest ones of them all if not the greatest. If you can believe the first verse, you can live everything in your life differently. God tells you that EVERYTHING will work for your good. Not some things. All things. This does not mean all things are good. Of course not. It does mean that all things come through the hand of God first. Christians aren’t to even mourn the same way as the lost do when their loved ones die. As Paul says, we mourn, but not like those who have no hope. We can even have hope in the face of death that we will be resurrected.
Are we really thankful?
We do not have what we have because we are so special a lot of times. We have it because of the generosity of God. If you can take a look at your life and stop and realize that at least one thing you have is good, that is enough. I have seen this dramatic change in my own life. For instance, my wife and I are cat owners. Meet our little Shiro. (His name is the Japanese word for white.)
I remember one night in the sorrows of depression watching little Shiro come into the living room where I was. I was for some reason I don’t remember feeling sorry for myself. I just watched him and saw him start to play with something and thought about how good that is. It just hit me then. There are truly many things that are good and I had just taken them for granted. Shiro didn’t have to be a part of my life, but he is. This thankfulness causes me to appreciate things more than normal. I can even think of the water bottle I have next to me. Thankfulness makes me realize that having such easy access to water is something my ancestors would have celebrated. It really makes me appreciate the taste of my water all the more.
There was a time a couple of years ago when I had a fundraiser held for Deeper Waters with Premier Jewelry. We had advertised it well and were hoping to get a lot of customers come by. You could count the number we had come by on one hand honestly. That part was disappointing, but they still bought some jewelry. We bought enough that I could get basic equipment for my computer. The equipment was enough for me to get the podcast started which I think has been a great part of my ministry. I gave thanks. God didn’t owe me a single penny that night. He is not in any debt to me. I am in great debt to Him. Still, despite Him having the right to demand everything of me, He instead gives me so much.
When we are not thankful, we take things for granted. We act like it all came about through our own power and means. We are not properly honoring God. One of the highest compliments I get from people is when they praise the way I treat my wife. Now I love getting compliments on intellectual ability being an apologist, but many people can do that. Only one person on this world gets to have the privilege of being a husband to my wife. That is one job I never want to fail at. When someone compliments me on that, it is the greatest honor. Yet my devotion I think could also stem from the old joke about the way nerds are with their women. We’re so convinced that we can never get a wife that when we find one, we treasure her all the more because we look at her and say “Well it sure isn’t because of anything really special in me that she’s with me today.” (Seriously. I’m a 120 pound or so weakling and I have no access to huge amounts of money. My wife did not marry me for looks or money definitely.)
My great joy from this blog post would be to see you think about the good things in your own life. Give thanks for them. Celebrate them. They did not have to be there. Every great thing you have is a blessing of God. Treat it that way. Perhaps one reason God does not do things for us we would like Him to do is we have failed to appreciate the good things that He’s already done for us.