As I stood at the kitchen sink, complaining about having to cut each individual grape in half and removing each of its tiny seeds, I thought, “I wasn’t the one who accidentally bought grapes with seeds, so why do I have to be the one who’s so inconvenienced?!” As I grew more annoyed with the tedious task set before me, my thoughts turned towards the upcoming holiday: Thanksgiving. My attitude was far from one of giving thanks. How could something so small (literally!) lead to such complaining? Silently I prayed, “Lord forgive me. Help me to give thanks even in this.” And He did: instead of complaining about someone buying the wrong grapes, I thanked Him that others in my family do the grocery shopping and that we had grapes to eat; instead of complaining that I had to pick out four tiny seeds per grape (yes, in my state of complaining I actually counted them!), I thanked Him for the people who would eat and enjoy them. My perspective completely changed but more importantly, praise and thanks were offered to the One to whom it is due.
I’m sure you aren’t complaining about grapes today, but is there something else that is keeping you from being grateful, from giving Him thanks? In Luke 17, we read of ten lepers who cried out to Jesus, that He might have mercy on them. He did, and He healed them. As you know, only one of the ten returned and thanked Jesus (see Luke 17:11-19). Let us not assume that we will remember to give thanks to Him in the “big and miraculous” moments if we don’t make a habit of doing it in the small ones. In fact, the devotional Our Daily Bread shares the following story: “Hearts were stirred and lives changed as Corrie ten Boom told with moving simplicity about God’s sufficiency to meet her needs, even as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Not only was the camp filthy but there were fleas everywhere. Corrie’s sister Betsie, who was imprisoned with her, insisted that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 was God’s will for them: “In everything give thanks.” But giving thanks in a flea-infested place seemed unrealistic to Corrie—until she realized why the guards didn’t come into their barracks to make them stop praying and singing hymns. They wanted to avoid the fleas! So, the prisoners were free to worship and study the Bible. The fleas, yes, even the fleas were agents of grace, and something to be thankful for. What are some of the “fleas” in our lives? They aren’t the big difficulties, but the petty annoyances. They are the little trials from which we can’t escape. Is it possible that they are one of the ways the Lord teaches us spiritual lessons and helps us to increase our endurance? When we are tempted to grumble, let’s remember the fleas and give thanks.”
One author noted, “In medicine the smallest germs can wreak the most havoc, and the tiniest pills can pack the biggest punch. First Thessalonians 5:16-18 can cure our irritability, lighten our depression, lessen our anxiety, and improve our disposition. In staccato-like style, the apostle Paul tells us to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. And all three verses are all-pervading: Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything. Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. Always. Constantly. Everything…Because all things work together for good, we can give thanks in everything. The Bible doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything. Some things are bad in their very nature. There are no examples of biblical heroes thanking God for evil events. But we can be thankful in all things, for God has promised to turn them for good.”
In addition to thanking Him for the big and miraculous (like the one leper) as well as for the small (like the fleas, or in my case, the grape seeds), let us ask Him to open our eyes so we might see that which we take for granted. It has been said, “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.” What a thought to consider! Let us not take His promises, His provisions, His mercies for granted! Rather, may we have hearts overflowing with gratitude as He opens our eyes to see His abundant grace all around us!
However, how can we give thanks, even in this, when it deals with unmet expectations and disappointments? Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “We accept and thank God for what is given, not allowing the not-given to spoil it.” Let us count our blessings and not our problems or disappointments. Simply put, what is our biggest blessing? Christ! As we fix our eyes on Jesus and the cross, we will always find that we have something to be grateful for! One November when my son saw a flyer that said, “Black Friday Sale,” he asked, “Black Friday – isn’t that the day that Jesus died?” I explained, “No, that is called GOOD Friday.” He shrugged and said, “Well, it should be called BLACK Friday.” A few days later he brought it up again and he said it should be called Black Friday because that is the day Jesus DIED. My daughter quickly interjected, “But it’s called GOOD Friday because He died for OUR SINS.”
As we hear about Black Friday deals and discounts, let it remind us of what Jesus did for us that fateful day, when darkness indeed did cover all the land, and He took the penalty and punishment of OUR sins upon Himself. There is no better “deal” than the offer of salvation: For the wages of sin is death, but the FREE GIFT of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). Even in our most difficult of days, we still have much to be thankful for when we look at the cross.
“In everything (in all circumstances) give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).” We can conclude that thankfulness is always possible by the grace of God and the working of His Spirit. We must also acknowledge that it is a command, which does not depend upon our emotions or estimation of a thing. As we busily prepare our homes and menus for the holiday of Thanksgiving, let us not forget to prepare our hearts for the act of thanks-giving. Let us, by God’s grace, stop any complaining and ask the Lord to show us how we can be grateful instead. May we ask Him to open our eyes and show us the things that we take for granted on a daily basis, so that instead, we might give Him thanks. And when our heart is hurting due to disappointments or unmet expectations, may we not allow the “not given” to spoil what has been given – namely, our salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ because of what He willingly did for you and me on the original “Black Friday.”
A 17th century preacher noted, “If you wish to be thankful, get a heart deeply humbled with the sense of your own vileness. A broken heart is the best pipe to sound forth God’s praise. ‘I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man—but I was shown mercy! (1 Timothy 1:13).’ How thankful Paul was! How he trumpeted forth free grace! A proud man will never be thankful. He looks on all his mercies as either of his own procuring or deserving. Pride stops the current of gratitude. O Christian, think of your unworthiness; see yourself as the least of saints, and the chief of sinners—and then you will be thankful.”
It’s been said, “In every circumstance, we can affirm God’s goodness and discover reasons to give thanks to Him. After all, our gratitude is to Him and for Him. We don’t need more to be thankful for, we need to be more thankful.”