2155) Always Give Thanks? (part one of two)

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     In Ephesians 5:20 Paul tells us to “always and for everything give thanks to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (RSV).   Always?– and for everything?– give thanks?  Is that what you always do?  Or, are you perhaps the type of person who always and in everything, can and will find something to complain about?  Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.  It is difficult to be always thankful for everything; and even the most negative person probably has an occasional positive feeling of gratitude. 

     The key to happiness in life is to tend more toward thankfulness than complaining.  Not only is that the key to happiness, but God’s Word commands it.  And the command is made not only in this one verse, but the admonition to be grateful is an often repeated theme throughout the Bible.  In fact, this even gets two of the Ten Commandments.  The ninth and tenth commandments both begin with the words “Thou shalt not covet…”  To covet is to want something that you do not have, something that someone else has, something that God has not given to you– be it a possession or a skill or whatever.  The opposite of coveting is to be content, to be satisfied with what you have, and to be thankful for what God has given you.  “Always and in everything give thanks,” says the verse.

      This is, of course, all a matter of perspective; a matter of how one chooses to look at what they have been given.  There are people who have everything but are still not satisfied and can complain all day; and, there are those who have very little, but are content, happy, and hardly ever complain about what they don’t have.  The contentment that comes from gratitude is not a matter of how much you have, but how much you choose to appreciate what you have. 

     Am I telling you anything new?  Of course not.  You know this already.  But we do need the occasional reminder.  Even as I write this, I am reminded of many aspects in my own life that should be more a matter of gratitude (which I can so easily forget), instead of complaint and dissatisfaction (which I can be so quick to do).  I know how this works, and so do you; so this is not so much new instruction as it is a reminder of what we already know.  Ephesians 5:20 provides the opportunity for such a reminder.

   Let me illustrate this with a (mostly) true story.  Mike and Ed both worked for a large company.  They did not know each other until they were assigned to work together on dealing with a large financial mess created by the dishonesty of one of the company’s executives.  Mike resented the many extra hours, the nights and weekends stuck in the office, and the pressure from the boss to get it done fast.  Mike would often make his frustration known with loud and long complaints. 

     After a while Mike noticed that Ed was not joining in on the grumbling.  Throughout the whole process Ed remained his usual cheerful self, despite being forced into the same miserable position as Mike.  Finally Mike asked Ed why he wasn’t more upset by the whole ordeal.

     Ed replied by telling him how he had learned to have a different perspective on all his troubles.   Ed said that he had been born with a heart defect, and just a few years before this his heart was giving out.  He was dying, and his only hope was to undergo a very difficult and dangerous surgery.  Without the surgery, he  would live less than a year, but if he had the surgery, there was a 50-50 chance he would die on the operating table.  Ed decided to have the surgery, and it was successful.  The defect was repaired and Ed made a full recovery.  Ed said, “When I said good-bye to my family that morning as I went in to surgery, I knew that I may never see them again.  I might not get even one more day, as that surgery could very well have been the end of everything for me.  And so when I did wake up and the doctors said I would be fine, it was like getting my life back again.  After something like that you look at all of life and every day from then on with gratitude.  Sure, we are putting in some long days here when we would rather be doing something else.  But for me, every day since that surgery has been a gift, no matter what I am doing.”  Ed had learned to do as the verse says, “always, and in everything give thanks.”

     There are two kinds of people in the world.  There are those who consider their life as their own achievement, and whatever comes to them is owed them.  They believe they have earned it and deserve it.  And, there are those others who believe their life is a gift, and whatever they receive comes to them as an additional, undeserved blessing of God.  Christians, if they are consistent with what they say they believe, will see their lives from that second perspective, and approach life with gratitude for all that God has given them.

   It is up to us to make good use of what we have been given, and even the best of us do not always do that.  But then we believe that God has even more to give us.  Not only do we look at all of life as a gift, but as Christians we know that in Christ we are offered forgiveness for the many ways that we have misused the life we have been given.  This too becomes a matter of perspective.  If we see only our achievements and have only pride in ourselves for what we have, then we will not have much appreciation for the Gospel of God’s grace and love and the forgiveness of our sins.  But if we see ourselves as receivers of everything we have, including the life and strength and skill to accomplish our achievements; and if we understand and believe what the Bible means when it says that we are sinners, then we will have a deep sense of gratitude for the forgiveness we receive in Christ Jesus.  (continued…)