Words by Carissa Belford // Images by Dianne Jago
I vividly remember the Christmas of 1990 when Grandma’s living room was filled with 20 grandchildren and 12 aunts and uncles. This holiday was most memorable since it was Grandma Ginny’s last time with all of us due to her pancreatic cancer diagnosis six months earlier. Of course, the old VHS recorders were in many hands capturing close-up facial expressions and interactions of the day. If we played those VHS tapes today, you would hear a 12-year-old’s high-pitched voice clearly commanding everyone to say “thank you, thank you” after each gift. I am often teased, and maybe embarrassed, about how many times I let each cousin know about their gratitude duty.
Paul wrote to the church at Colossae about their duty to focus on heavenly things where Christ is, and not on things of this earth. He also said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body, and be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word of deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:14–17).
In Philippians 2:14–15, he shared this duty with another church to “do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of Christ, I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
We can tell a big difference between the person who is thankful and the one who is not. The person who is grateful is not focused on earthly things to bring satisfaction and wholeness, but on Jesus who gives completeness. We are complete in him. When a child or adult is characterized by complaining, grumbling, or coveting, his focus is not on all the riches of his eternal inheritance. I am guilty of this so often. I fix my eyes on the temporary gifts and forget to permanently gaze at the Giver of the gifts.
We were made to be worshipers. I tell myself and my kids that we were made to worship the Creator, not the created stuff. When we make gods out of the temporal things that bring short-lived happiness, we are idolaters. A person who worships the Creator, knowing that the eternal inheritance is hers, will be known by her thankful spirit. This character will be evident while going through trials and testing. The only way we can respond with grace and thanks in the Christian life is through “God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Does someone have to come to us and direct us to say “thank you” over and over, or is that an initial response that characterizes our lives? Are we thankful for our tailor-made trials that are designed to draw us to Christ? Or do we grumble at the inconvenience these seem to us? John Piper says, “Trials are anything that tempts me to be angry at people and God. They are an opportunity from God to test me and refine my faith.”
Giving thanks comes from a Spirit-led believer who fixes her gaze on her Creator. Grace has been poured out abundantly to us. We are not entitled to anything. Oswald Chambers said, “The thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in a human being is that God has forgiven sin.” I have to remember that I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I have done nothing to earn it. Jesus did it all. Everything I have is a bonus. My husband, my children, my job and opportunities are God’s gifts that I should be grateful for. Nancy Leigh DeMoss says in her book Choosing Gratitude, “Is the gratitude that flows out of your life as abounding as the grace that has flowed into it?” These are marks of a mature believer.