Last week I watched an episode of a TV program where a man had just lost his wife. She was killed in a tragic accident, and he was still emotionally reeling from it. On top of that, his job exposed him to some of the worst things people do to one another. So, when he sat with his extended family and was asked to thank God for the food before him, he said, “I don’t feel very thankful right now.”
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. A day set aside to express thanks to God (at least that was it’s original purpose), because the reality is we tend to forget to do that.
Or we just don’t feel very thankful.
Most of us can make a list of things we’ve seen that depress us. Many of us can add to that list things that have happened to us personally. Hard, difficult things that can make gratitude and thanksgiving very difficult. So, it is easy to understand why so many don’t feel particularly thankful.
But this betrays a mindset we don’t usually confront in ourselves or others. A mindset that will destroy us spiritually and emotionally if we hold on to it. A mindset that says “I deserve to be happy.” This is a sentiment that has become so popular it is one of the biggest hooks used by marketing strategists.
“You should buy this because it will make you happy, and YOU DESERVE TO BE HAPPY.
But we don’t deserve to be happy.
A few years ago I stood before my congregation and shared with them that I had just been diagnosed with a rare, incurable and usually terminal form of cancer. Of course, people were upset as I shared what I knew, and how that would affect my ability to serve the church. This was one of the most difficult times of my life because I could see how hard it was on these people who loved me. But as I shared about the treatment I would undergo, and the strong possibility I would not even survive the treatment, much less the disease, I remember thinking and feeling one thing very clearly–gratitude.
I have no complaints about God.
Yes, He let me have cancer. But then, that is my fault, not His. Cancer, like all the other bad things that happen to us, is the result of sin. Adam’s, yours, mine. We are all under judgment–not because God hates us or doesn’t care–but because of our sin. The fault for these things lies with us. We deserve what we are getting.
But God doesn’t just give us what we deserve.
He is the God who intervened in a suicide attempt when I was in high school. He is the God who forgave me for who I was and what I had done (and that was a very ugly picture even at that age). He is the God who allowed me to build a new life. He is the God who brought me a young woman who would share that life. He is the God who gave us three wonderful children, and allowed us to see them grow into adults any parents would be proud of–adults who are part of God’s solution, not our problem. He is the God who gave me 11 grandchildren–and has allowed me to share moments of life with each of them. He is the God who let me come alongside Him as He worked in other people’s lives, and let me be a part of that work. He is the God who has–and continues to–grow the fruit of the Spirit in me, changing me from the inside out. He is the God who has always provided what I need, if not the lengthy list of what I want.
To be clear, I deserved none of this. I am a sinner. I deserve hell. But I have been given a share in the Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s my story. But I suspect each of you have one similar–if you have accepted His forgiveness and made Him your Lord. Each of us is a sinner. Each of us deserves hell. And each of us has been offered a share in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Nothing that happens in this world changes that. Nothing that happens to me changes that. No matter what else happens, God has already done so much more for us than we deserve that we have to be grateful to Him.
And we can be, as long as we remember that we don’t really deserve what we have. It is God’s gift, and we are forever grateful to Him.
May your Thanksgiving be filled with the awareness of what He has given you.
Know Jesus and Be Faithful.