by Jacob Cheriyan
The mother looked sternly at 5-year-old Priya and said, “Priya, what are you supposed to say when someone gives you a gift?”, Priya looked right at the person who had just given her a beautifully wrapped present and said in an adorable voice, “Thank you, Uncle”. We hear and use the words ‘thank you’ often in our day to day life. We thank the cashier in a supermarket after he has bagged our groceries, we thank the waiter after he has brought us our food and teachers train their students to say thank you whenever someone has been kind to them. It does seem that gratitude is a value that our society cherishes. It is a treasured etiquette and one that is taught to us at a very early age. But is there more to gratitude than merely being polite? Is it possible for us to be thankful even when those around have not been kind to us? Is it possible for us to be thankful at all times?
The link between God’s grace and Gratitude
In his final greetings, Paul reminds the Thessalonian church to, ‘Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). At first glance this might seem a very odd statement. How can a person be thankful in all circumstances? What if the circumstances are awful or tragic? Society teaches us to be thankful whenever someone has shown us a kind gesture. It is totally reasonable for us to be thankful when people have done something good for us. But Paul does not state any particular set of circumstances for the church to be thankful for, but rather says that the will of God is to be always thankful at all times, no matter what the circumstance.
How did Paul come to such an understanding? I do not believe that Paul said this frivolously or just as a way of being socially polite. But rather Paul’s understanding of gratitude stems from a direct understanding of God’s grace in his life. I firmly believe, just as Paul did, that to deeply grasp the grace of God is to inevitably live a life of gratitude. Gratitude is the unavoidable attitude of a person who has experienced the grace of God in his or her life. Because when we come to understand that everything we have is a product of God’s grace, that we actually do not deserve anything in this world, then we will certainly be thankful for all that we have. But if we think that we deserve many of the things that we have because we have worked for it or that it is our right to have it, then there is no reason to be thankful, because we have earned it. It is not possible for anybody to be thankful for something they believe is rightfully theirs.
But those who live in the continual awareness of God’s grace believe that nothing is theirs. Everything in life is a product of God’s grace. To continually live in the knowledge of God’s providence is to come to the unavoidable conclusion that God is the one who has given us everything and hence all thanks go to Him. Whether the particular situation is big or small in our eyes becomes irrelevant, what becomes important is to recognise that the grace of God is always present.
The link between depravity and Gratitude
There is another vital aspect that contributes to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and a higher understanding of gratitude, and that is to recognise our innate wretchedness. A person who is born again into the family of God understands that the life that he was actually destined for was utter hopelessness. A chaotic world that he has brought upon himself. But all this changes in his encounter with the crucified Jesus. Now his life is destined for something greater. He understands that His life is now part of the amazing Kingdom of God. In this new reality he finds himself, he suddenly has every reason to be thankful to God for. A born-again Christian understands that God is always doing what is best for him.
The link between God’s power and Gratitude
Paul says in Romans that all things work together for good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Hence why can Paul so confidently tell the Thessalonian church to be thankful in all circumstances? Because Paul knows that even if there are circumstances that might be perceived to be tragic or hopeless, God is bringing about what is best in and through those circumstances. A believer understands that the God who unconditionally loves is always in control. He sees the grand picture, we do not. And so, we trust this loving God to bring about the best in all our circumstances. And in doing so, we cannot help but be thankful to Him.
Embracing the New Year with Gratitude
As we approach the coming year I pray that we are able to embrace it with gratitude. To thank God for all the beautiful moments that He gave us in the past year and to bring in the new year with our hearts overflowing with thanks. To know that no matter what happens in the coming year, God is always bringing about the best for us. That even though we might not understand the great sovereign plan of God and though our circumstances at times might feel really difficult, our loving God is piecing together something much grander and much bigger than what we can ever imagine.
Thanks be to God!