Once a year, our nation proclaims a day of Thanksgiving. I love the thought, but often wonder if most of us understand the concept and to whom our gratitude should be directed.
God has truly blessed this nation we call America. One day a year is not enough to be thankful. I think we are all guilty of ingratitude. Instead of thanking God for what we have, we want more.
Dr. Bob Jones Sr. said, “The loveliest flower that blooms in the garden of the soul is gratitude.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I still thank God for little things. I grew up in an old country house with linoleum on the floors, no running water in the house, and when the wind blew outside, the curtains would move inside. I slept in, notice I said “in,” a feather bed. On cold nights, Momma would heat a flat iron on the old wood stove in the living room, wrap it in a towel, and place it between the quilts to have some warmth.
Today, we enjoy modern houses with up-to-date conveniences and comfort. We are rich compared to the world’s standards, but are we thankful? Gratitude is truly the crown of graces, the completion of character and the hallelujah chorus of a redeemed man.
Before we rise up out of bed,
Rejoice — be glad and give God praise
And thank Him for what lies ahead.
The Bible speaks repeatedly on the topic of thanksgiving.
The Psalmist admonishes all to enter his gates with thanksgiving (Psalm 100).
Nehemiah assigned people to begin a time of thanksgiving in prayer (Nehemiah 11:17).
Isaiah, the prophet, voiced comfort of Zion noting joy and gladness shall be found therein, “thanksgiving” and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3).
Amos required backsliding Israel to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Amos 4:5).
In Paul’s writings to the church at Philippi, he said, when you pray, your requests are to be accompanied with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). He told Timothy God created things for us to receive with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4:3). In everything we are to give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:18).
This is a strange statement coming from the Apostle Paul. This man, who was in perils of his life at Damascus, persecuted in Antioch, stoned in Lystra, assaulted in Iconium, beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, despised in Athens, exposed to fierce wrath at Ephesus and then sent in chains to Rome. Yet, in all places, in all things, at all times, Paul gave thanks. Though he was in prison without freedom, in winter without a coat, in court without friends, in poverty without help, in wandering without a home, he ever sang his hymn of thanksgiving.
Gratitude is an attitude of the heart that should begin in youth. Parents are responsible to teach gratitude and thanksgiving. I watch an entitlement generation who believe they are owed not just life’s necessities, but life’s luxuries, as well. Wise parents begin early to teach a solid work ethic, the value of accomplishment, and a special appreciation for help along the way.
We are told in scripture that lack of gratitude is a form of behavior prominent in the last days. This know also, that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy (II Timothy 3:1-2).
Ingratitude is the first step to deep sin. Being grateful is an anchor to hold you against shipwreck when major waves of temptation approach. People usually go from ingratitude to indulgence, from indulgence to indifference, then to independence and pride. Lastly will come indecency, which is exhibited in the perversion of a society that began in ingratitude.
I am thankful today for those who have refreshed my spirit along the way. Space does not permit recounting of all those who have played a role in my life. Parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends all put a piece of the puzzle in place. We are a composite of all who touch us in life.
Dr. R.G. Lee, my spiritual grandfather, stated that we are to be thankful when the road is rough, when the night is dark, when disease invades the home, when the wolf of want howls at the door and when we are treated unkindly. It should be there during the fires of suffering, as well as the hearth of warmth. During tribulation and triumph, the desert places and the gardens, yes, when we are bereaved, when dreams collapse and hope withers. Yes, in everything, give thanks.
Valerie Cox, from a third serving of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” wrote about gratitude in “The Cookie Thief.”
A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight,
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see
That a man beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene?
She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock
As the gutsy “cookie thief” diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the moments clicked by
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!”
With each cookie she took, he took one, too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half as he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh, brother!
This guy has some nerve, and he’s also rude.
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude.
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate
Refusing to look back at the “thieving ingrate.”
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gazed with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies in front of her eyes!
“If mine are here,” she moaned with despair,
“Then the others were his and he tried to share.”
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God concerning you (I Thessalonians 5:8). The will of God is progressive. Not to take the first step will deny you access to the second step. God will not reveal the unwritten until we follow the part that is written. Being thankful is basic to exploring all aspects of God’s perfect will for your life. Being thankful minimizes each problem and maximizes our God. Thanksgiving and praise are acceptable offerings to God (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Too often, I have watched individuals allow a problem to stick in their craw, dominate their thinking and cause them to make foolish, life-changing decisions when they are surrounded by hundreds of blessings that go unnoticed.
As we gather with our families and churches this Thanksgiving, may we be truly thankful to our God, the Sovereign of the universe, Who daily loads us with benefits.
Dr. Jack Scallions serves as pastor emeritus of Fairview Baptist Church in Athens.