Healthy Christians are people of gratitude and generosity. That is a clear biblical truth that has been lived out across the years in church history. If the gospel has not penetrated a person’s heart to the point that they are profoundly grateful, then a key ingredient in salvation is missing.
Zacchaeus is more than the subject of a cute children’s song; he is the personification of what happens when Jesus takes up residence in one’s heart. Old self-centered habits are replaced with a generous spirit whose gratitude is manifest in visible and life-changing ways.
Every November, Thanksgiving serves to remind us that we have the ability to live out a grateful and generous lifestyle year-round. Many of us come away from the Thanksgiving experience determined to be more thankful and more generous in the days ahead.
Too often, that resolve is quickly forgotten in the rush and stress of our hectic lives. Other times, it is overwhelmed by the harsh reality of difficult circumstances in our lives that evoke anything but gratitude from us.
I remember one bewildered church member sharing with me his frustration with the expectation from Scripture to be thankful for all things. He had experienced quite a few heartbreaks and was wondering how God could possibly expect him to maintain a grateful heart in the midst of his travails.
I encouraged him to go back and re-examine the biblical text and see exactly what it said. I suggested he start with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
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Our next conversation centered around the monumental difference between being thankful for all things and being thankful in all things. Somewhere along the line, he said, he had been led to believe that the proper Christian response to difficulties in life was an extra measure of gratitude for the obstacle placed in one’s path.
As he recounted, such an attitude was proving impossible to hold. Instead, as the Scripture clearly suggested, our gratitude is in the midst of whatever life brings, but may not necessarily be for the event itself. It was a breakthrough insight for him. Years later, he continues to remind me of the day he learned to be grateful in, not for, all things in his life experience.
Such insight may well be the secret to maintaining a thankful heart beyond the holiday devoted to giving thanks. An attitude of gratitude that focuses on the provisions and goodness of God, even in the midst of hardship, is what Scripture teaches. A deep trust that God is at work in all things for good can inspire us to remain grateful in the midst of economic downturns, tragedies, illnesses and even in the face of death.
Congregations can cultivate such a healthy, mature faith by telling the stories over and over of how God provides what we need when we need it. Your story of God’s providence in your life encourages me to believe that such a thing might actually happen to me.
We can remind one another that with God, there is always enough of everything. Abundance, not scarcity, is God’s trademark. Much like the fish and the loaves, he supplies what we need in ways that mystify and inspire us.
I am increasingly convinced that whenever I find a church or person doing great things for the kingdom, there is inevitably an underlying spirit of gratitude and generosity to be found.
I hope you will be that kind of person in the year to come. I hope you are part of such a group of people. If not, why not be the one who turns the tide toward these foundational spiritual traits?
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.