From "The Pastor's Pen" in the November 2007 Voice of the Valley, the monthly newsletter of Valley Bible Church, by the Reverend Frank C. Emrich. Re-posted here with permission.
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This summer my granddaughters were at our house playing in the play house I built for them. As I was sitting on the porch, (the place assigned to me by both of them; I am their official bodyguard) I was listening to their conversation. One had just served the other an imaginary cup of tea. She says, "You need to say thank you." Which, of course, her cousin immediately did. Both sets of parents have done a wonderful job of teaching their little girls the importance of saying thank you as well as other good manners.
As I listened I thought ofmy own "manners," or lack of them, when it comes to saying thank you to our generous and gracious God. I had just read a devotinal that morning where the author made this statement:
Genuine gratitude must be distinguished from a knee-jerk politeness or a programmed "duty-thanks." The kind of life-changing heart attitude that God desires is much deeper than surface, verbal gratitude.
The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as, "To show that a kindness received is valued". Genuine gratitude requires that we get past obligation and somehow demonstrate that we deeply appreciate what we have received.
"Thank You, God, for this new day." "Thank You, for the life that I can use to serve You." "Thank You for breath that I can use to praise You." "Thank You for health." "Thank You, LORD, for strength."
I think of all the times when I have turned from genuine gratitude to complaining instead. I think you know what I mean. We all seem to have what we can call a natural default to complaining. We minimize the blessings of life and magnify every negative circumstance we encounter. We may say things like, "I am sick of this lousy weather," "Why can't the kids pick up after themselves," "Nobody appreciates me."
Instead, we need to develop our level of gratitude. Here is something that I learned from a devotional book that will help us do just that.
There are three levels of thankfulness: elementary school, high school, and graduate school.
Elementary school thankfulness instructs us to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His Name." Here, thankfulness is a sacrifice. In effect, we say to God, "You helped me and now I say thanks. My obligation has been met; I recognize Your involvement." You've done your duty, but you won't find much joy.
High school thankfulness is better. "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." In every situation, you and I can always find something to be thankful for - always. We can make the decision. We can look away from what's wrong and focus on what's right and give thanks. The high school version of thankfulness does produce joy as long as you're not going through anything too difficult.
But if you want real joy - if you want to be done with living in a virtual wilderness forever, then go on to level three - graduate school thankfulness. "Be filled with the Spirit...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father." This gratitude searches to find a good aspect in a challenging circumstance. This is the thankfulness that trusts God and thus is grateful for the bad things.
Perhaps today you are bttling a health crisis or experiencing a great, lingering sorrow. Maybe you've got a huge financial need. You and I need to get to the place by faith where we can say, "Thank You, God. This is the thing that You are using in my life. You've allowed it because You love me and I trust You. Thank You, God, even for this!" When we allow the LORD to bring us to that kind of thankfulness, we will experience a depth of joy we never thought possible.
This is real gratitude. Begin right now by thanking God for something so far out there - far from what you'd ever think you could be grateful for. In faith, say "thanks" for that. Sure, it'll stretch your view of what God is doing in your life, but do it anyway. You'll be grateful and glad for the results.
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Editor's note: In the case of the final two paragraphs of Pastor Emrich's essay, Hard Starboard does not endorse the sentiments expressed therein. Humble, submissive acceptance, yes; thankfulness for the spiritual maturation process, okay; gratitude for pain, suffering, and all-around mental, emotional, and/or physical misery in and of itself, uh-uh.