“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his loyal love, and for the amazing things he has done for people!” – Psalms 107:17
While elaborating upon the importance of prayer (as emphasized in the eleventh step of Celebrate Recovery) I cited Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4:6 in which he advised Christians to “…in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.” His use of the phrase “with thanksgiving” is a clear indication that we should always exhibit a noticeable attitude of gratitude for the blessings God has bestowed on his children and express our deepest thanks to Him no matter what our circumstances may be. In order to do so in a sincere fashion we must humble ourselves before God and admit that if not for Him being exactly the way He is none of us would exist. Furthermore, we wouldn’t even be aware we didn’t exist! None of us would know what a tender touch feels like. We wouldn’t know the awe-filled emotion a gorgeous, multicolored sunset can generate in our hearts. Or know firsthand the indescribable sensation of holding a newborn in our arms. I’ve often tried to wrap my tiny brain around the stupendous fact that, within this incomprehensibly enormous universe, I’m alive and walking around on this infinitesimally miniscule planet that spins on the outskirts of a relatively small galaxy of stars solely because the Creator willed me into existence. That’s remarkable itself. But then, because of what He has told me in His Holy Word, I must tack on the astounding miracle that God actually knows all about me (including the number of gray hairs on my noggin) and loves me. In addition, He’s made a way for me to live eternally in His kingdom, doing wondrous things on His behalf the scope of which I don’t even have the capacity to imagine! How can I not be filled to the brim with gratitude?
Thomas Merton wrote, “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.” If you’ve reached the 7th Principle of the Celebrate Recovery journey I expect by now you’ve completed a thorough inventory of your life. No stone was to be left unturned. If that hasn’t made you keenly cognizant of what a complex, somewhat neurotic human being you developed into and how blessed you are to have a Heavenly Father who adores you in spite of your sinful nature then you need to start over at Step 1. For it is God Almighty who’s made it possible for you to gain leverage over the hurts, hang-ups and habits that used to hold you in bondage. In my opinion it’s impossible to witness healing take place and not be overcome with thankfulness. Albert Schweitzer said, “He who does not reflect his life back to God in gratitude does not know himself.”
Yet we live in a world where being thankful for one’s lot is becoming as passé as displaying decent table manners. One of the many scourges of modern society is our ever-expanding yet groundless sense of entitlement. For some unknown reason we feel we have an inalienable right to enjoy certain allowances and conveniences. Unfortunately that mindset has crossed over into the realm of followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Dr. Larry Crabb wrote, “Our quick-fix, feel-better, make-life-work-for-us, we-want-it-now-and-we’re-entitled-to-have-it-now culture has wrenched our understanding of the Christian story into something that it is not and never was. Believe the lie, and you become what no person, especially a Christian person, was meant to be. If you assume that Christianity means satisfaction in this life of all your desires, including the ones that lie deepest in your heart, then you live as no person was meant to live.” Sadly, I confess that I’m as guilty as anyone else of thinking from time to time that God owes me more than just my immortal soul and I detest that about myself. The only cure for my selfish stinkin’ thinkin’ is to yank the rug out from under my runaway pride and ego and let them fall into a pile of grade A humility.
There’s that “H” word again. If you need a refresher on the subject check out what the Apostle Paul taught in Philippians 2:3-11; “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Here’s the plain truth: You’ll have no room for others if your cup runneth over with you. Jesus fully demonstrated to all mankind that humility is the foundation of genuine thankfulness. St. Augustine wrote, “Should you ask me what is the first thing in religion; I should reply that the first, second and third thing therein is humility.”
There’s been a lot written about cultivating a humble countenance. I hope you’ll find these musings inspiring. Even the great Ernest Hemingway chimed in: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” (He hit the bull’s eye in respect to our recovery, no?) Martin Luther said, “True humility does not know it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” And Thomas a Kempis wrote, “The more humble and obedient to God a man is, the more wise and at peace he will be in all that he does.” However, we must beware of the danger that lurks in putting up a false front of meekness. Thomas Fuller intuitively said that “Pride, perceiving humility honorable, often borrows her cloak.” Phony humbleness is a chafing mask that’s hard to keep in place and eventually others will see right through it. D.L. Moody preached, “A man can counterfeit love, he can counterfeit faith, he can counterfeit hope and all the other graces, but it is very difficult to counterfeit humility.” As in all things, though, we definitely can’t hoodwink God. He sees the motivations of our heart for exactly what they are so that’s why presenting ourselves before Him honestly without a hint of pretense must be a vital part of our daily recovery protocol. By being totally transparent before the great I AM (whose love for us knows no boundary despite our massive moral deficiencies) we can better develop a respectfully thankful mien.
No matter how upstanding a Christian we might consider ourselves to be, we can all show more gratitude for what we have, starting with our merciful Father in heaven. One need only to take a quick gander at any one of the assorted news media outlets to see that there are millions, if not billions, of folks on earth that have very little compared to what most of us take for granted constantly. We know it’s not a matter of His loving us more. In my case I surely can’t account for my being so well looked after by Him. My theory is that He grants some of us our basic needs so we’re better able to spread the good news of the gospel to the far corners of the world. The old saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” should be every believer’s motto. Maya Angelou wrote, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” Cultivating a stronger air of thankfulness is imperative to augmenting our effectiveness as representatives of our Lord and Savior. Philip Yancey quipped, “If we comprehend what Christ has done for us, then surely out of gratitude we will strive to live ‘worthy’ of such great love. We will strive for holiness not to make God love us but because He already does.” Our awareness of how generous our Creator has been to us will, accordingly, enhance our spirituality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Therefore being grateful to our Heavenly Father is not only one of the best ways to worship Him but also to evolve into more useful Christians. As Elie Wiesel expressed, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”
Yet nothing proves our thankfulness to God more exhaustively than in how we choose to treat others. We should be mindful of what Colossians 3:15-16 tells us: “Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.” Jesus didn’t just give us Himself; He also gave us each other for support. Being generous, kind and courteous to everyone we come into contact with is our personal tribute to Christ. As our Lord told the disciples in Matthew 25:37-40; “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’” A.A. Milne, in his delightful “Winnie-the-Pooh” book, touched on something profound: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” We must also never forget to thank our Savior for the progress we’ve made in our recovery. I like what the ancient philosopher Epicurus had to offer: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” I came to Celebrate Recovery in desperate straits, searching for a way to be cleansed of my lifelong addiction to pornography. By my conforming to His will, God did just that. I can’t thank the Lord enough and my gratitude helps me stay on course. I don’t want to let my Savior down. Hebrews 12:1-2 reads, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Steve Maraboli wrote, “Those who have the ability to be grateful are the ones who have the ability to achieve greatness.”
Another way to acknowledge our indebtedness to God is by remaining obedient to His laws and being self-sacrificing when it comes to pursuing our own agendas. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 speaks of our need to be compliant: “We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” In other words, we must make every effort to shelve our earthly aspirations in favor of doing God’s will and complying with how He wants us to act and think in order to bring attention to His Son’s atoning sacrifice. We should emulate John the Baptist who, in reference to Jesus, said “This then is my joy, and it is complete. He must become more important while I become less important.” (John 3:29-30) We achieve that goal through obedience. J.C. Ryle said, “Obedience is the only reality. It is faith visible, faith acting, and faith manifest. It is the test of real discipleship among the Lord’s people.” A.W. Tozer put it succinctly: “The final test of love is obedience.”
In the last analysis one cannot be grateful unless one first chooses to be content with what God provides. That frame of mind will always run contrary to our tendency to want to accumulate more stuff but that pursuit is a fool’s quest from the get go. Pearl S. Buck wrote, “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.” Charles Spurgeon preached, “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” That’s why in Hebrews 13:5 Paul instructed, “Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” Put another way, God’s freely-bestowed grace is all we need. Anything else that comes down the pike is gravy. Contentment is something we must cultivate in ourselves through self-denial. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “At some point you gotta let go and sit still and allow contentment to come to you” while Jane Austen is quoted as saying “I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.” In Philippians 4:12 Paul indicated that it was something he had to teach himself: “I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.” He’s telling us that contentment doesn’t come naturally but if we put all our trust in Christ, our Savior will guarantee we receive our daily bread. It took me a long time to become satisfied with what I have but I must stand witness to the fact that contentment now instills in me a peace I never knew before I put Jesus in charge. It’s something that others notice, too. Jerry Bridges wrote, “Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power.” I’ve found that life is a lot simpler when the only person I yearn to impress is my Father in heaven.
I came across a passage by St. Terese of Liseaux that encourages me. She said, “May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” I look at it this way; if the great I AM was willing to accept me as one of His own exactly as I was when I first stepped out of denial and conceded that I couldn’t unchain myself from my filthy sinful nature without divine help, then I owe it to him not to demand anything beyond the core necessities. Only then will I be content to live without expectations for anything other than the stupendous future He has planned for me. I found out that inner peace and contentment go hand in hand with how thankful I am for God being the magnificent Father He is to me. I’ll leave you with this quip from William A. Ward: “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’”