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Cultivating A Grateful Heart
By David A. DePra
Paul writes, "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (I Thes. 5:18) He is saying that it is the WILL of God for us to give thanks in everything. Notice what this suggests: First, that God is in charge of everything. Second, that God has some good in everything. BOTH must be true. For if God is not in charge of my situation, then it would be nonsense for me to give Him thanks Ė for He isnít even involved. And if God did not intend some good out of my situation, then it would likewise be silly for me to thank Him.
The Sovereignty of God
Now, before proceeding, we must get something established. Some Christians believe, because of some bad teaching, that everything that happens Ė good or bad, sin or righteousness -- is Godís will. Because God knows everything ahead of time, some people make God a prisoner of His own foreknowledge. They say, "Since God knows it, He must have decreed it Ė because He could have prevented it." Thus, to them, if what happens has already passed the scrutiny of Godís foreknowledge, it must therefore be His will. But all of this is simply not the Truth.
To say that if God allows something, that it is equal to Him "willing it" is error. Within Godís sovereign will, God has given man a free will. And this mandates that God allow much that is outside of His will. It might seem to be a contradiction to say that God wills that man be allowed to reject His will, but it isnít. Indeed, the alternative is unacceptable.
You have one alternative: That manís rejection of Godís will IS Godís will. But if this is true, then God is two-faced. On the one hand, He has His will. But on the other, He wills that man reject His will. Impossible.
So the Truth is, God has a will. But He doesnít will that man reject His will. He allows man to reject His will.
But doesnít that mean manís rejection of Godís will is Godís will? Ė Since He could stop it? Since He knows ahead of time what man will do?
What does it have to mean that? It is Godís will to allow man to reject His will Ė if man chooses. THAT is WITHIN the sovereignty of God. Within the sovereignty and purpose of God, God has ordained that people be allowed to rebel against Him. God has ordained, within His greater purpose, to allow much that is NOT His highest will. Part of the reason is that God is creating free will moral creatures, in whom He wants to create righteous character. None of that is possible unless free will is exercised.
This does not mean that God has relinquished His sovereignty. It does not mean God ceases to be in charge. It just means that God has ordained to work His purpose within the a framework which includes manís free will and this fallen creation. God does as He pleases. But He has chosen to limit Himself along certain lines for Redemptive purposes.
When Paul says that we are to give thanks in everything, he is aware of Godís sovereignty and overall purpose. He knows that even if we donít know what God is doing, we can be sure God does know. In that spirit, we can give thanks. We can invite God into our situations, and be sure that when we do, God comes in. And we can be sure that God will use our situation, in the long run, to work an eternally good purpose.
Thanksgiving really tends to generate from FAITH. It is always easy to give thanks when things are going good Ė although many of us donít give thanks even at that point as much as we should. But when things are going bad, instead of giving thanks, many of us gripe. We just donít believe God has a good purpose in mind. Some of us think He has betrayed us.
God has never told us to enjoy bad times. He has never told us to be thankful for the situation itself Ė as if He were causing it. Rather, we are to be thankful to God for what He wants to work through it Ė even if we donít know exactly what that may be.
For instance, if someone murders a friend of mine, it would hardly be appropriate to give thanks to God for the murder. But you know what? If I mistakenly believe EVERYTHING that happens is Godís will, then I would have to! Ė because I have already established that everything that happens is Godís will. So, once again, we see the utter nonsense of saying that God causes all things Ė or even that He approves of them. He does not. God allows plenty that He hates.
Proverbs lists seven things among those which God hates:
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brethren. (Prov. 6:16-19)
If one of us, who are sinful, would, on the one hand, say we hate these things, and then, on the other, CAUSE what we hate, no one would fail to recognize our hypocrisy. Indeed, we would be a false witness and be guilty of one of the very things we have said we hate. How much less could God be a hypocrite. We need to do away with such thinking about a God who says of Himself: "God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."
So what I can do in a tragic situation is thank God for the fact that He is good, even if all of us are evil. I can thank Him for working something Redemptive out of a crime or tragedy. I can acknowledge that, yes, God does allow much that is not His will, but that there is an overall purpose that He has.
Again, we see that being thankful is related to faith. If I donít believe God is faithful, I am not going to be giving Him thanks for much at all.
Gratefulness to God is directly proportional to the value I place upon what is given. Did you ever realize that? If I do not value what God does, or gives, then Iím not going to be thankful for it. I may even end up neglecting it.
There is a second part of this axiom. Not only is gratefulness directly related to the value I place upon something, but the value I place upon something is directly related to how much I think I need it. If I do not think I need something, I wonít place much value on it. And I wonít be very thankful for it. At best, I will be neutral.
If you were a homeless person, and I handed you a twenty-dollar bill, you would greatly value what Iíve given you. But if you were a millionaire, the twenty would not have the same effect. You might take it, but you wouldnít value it very much.
Jesus said, with regard to the women who anointed him, "Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. (Luke 7:47) He was not encouraging us to go out and sin MUCH so that we would love MUCH. Jesus was simply telling us that we will realize the value of what God has done for us to the degree we realize our sin against Him. And in that, we will determine the degree of our love and thanksgiving to Him.
The gospel is the message of the riches of God freely given to us at Christís expense. But we will never value these riches unless we see our need. And we will never be thankful unless we see the value.
The idea of Christianity as a burden or an imposition which God has placed upon us is foreign to Jesus Christ. Some of us treat our relationship with God almost as if it is a hostage situation, with God holding the keys to heaven and hell, and us having to obey Him lest we be condemned. Christianity is deliverance from sin and death, and eternal life. But until we see our true condition of poverty, we will never value such His eternal gift.
So if you recognize that you are not as thankful as you ought to be, we know have some keys. Ask God to show you a greater depth to what Jesus Christ has done for you, and to show you your need. And begin to walk as one who believes that God is working a purpose out in your life according to His love and eternal good. In time, a grateful heart will come.*
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