By Mark A. Taylor
Even when economic times are tough, most readers of this column are surrounded by enough affluence that thanksgiving should come naturally. In a world where much of the population worries about having enough food, our overladen tables this past weekend are just one symbol of our bounteous blessings.
So why is the American Thanksgiving celebration characterized more by indulgence than gratitude?
Just as the blind-from-birth adult doesn’t miss what he’s never seen, the blessed-from-birth American may not appreciate what he’s always enjoyed. A full stomach? Enough clothes? A comfortable place to sleep? Most of us view such blessings as rights, not gifts. Because our incomes long ago paid for our necessities, we deplete what’s left of our paychecks chasing after wants that friends and advertisers have convinced us we need. When our excesses don’t fulfill, it’s difficult to muster much gratitude for them.
This is quite a contrast to the mothers in the destitute West African country of Niger, lining up for nourishment to keep their infants alive. Or the new residents of a Habitat for Humanity home, overwhelmed by the joy of three bedrooms and a bathroom that works.
But maybe food and shelter or luxury versus poverty aren’t the real issues. Maybe the deepest gratitude grows from a place where external circumstances are beside the point.
New Testament exhortations to thankfulness suggest spiritual, not physical, motivations. There gratitude is connected with our relationship to Christ (Colossians 3:15), our devotion to prayer (Colossians 4:2), our reverence toward God (Hebrews 12:28), and an ongoing joy that comes from staying connected to God “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
We tend to connect gratitude with plenty of stuff or happy circumstances. But when the stuff quits satisfying, and the circumstances change—when we lose our health or our spouse or our job—we can still be grateful. The key is to lift our eyes from the surroundings of this life, and to seek God who is above and beyond this world. We can thank him for what he has accomplished in our heart and soul. And even if God seems far away, we can be encouraged by his love for us. As Ben Cachiaras says this week, God’s Word reminds us he’s with us, even when we don’t feel him close by.
If you haven’t felt particularly thankful this week—or even if you have—maybe a good exercise would be to meditate on God and his goodness, God and his provision of every “good and perfect gift” (James 1:17), God and his cure for our biggest problem, sin. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).