Everyone agrees gratitude is a wonderful thing. We know it when we see it.We appreciate it when someone extends it in our direction. We miss it when it’s gone. We resent the absence of it in our children and co-workers.
What we have trouble with is nailing that sucker down.
What exactly is thankfulness (gratitude, an appreciative spirit, etc.)? Several sermons on the subject in my library dance all around the subject, blaming it on this, attributing it to that, everything but identifying what exactly it is.
What follows will not be the final word on this subject. You knew this, but I wanted to make sure everyone knows that I’m aware of it too.
As the expression goes about art, “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.” Seems to me a justice once said that about pornography. No doubt, it applies to a wide assortment of subjects, including gratitude.
Here is one snapshot of thankfulness.
To be candid with you, I have drifted in and out of this attitude of gratitude in years past. But it’s all different now in my life. Every day is a gift. Every moment is a precious treasure. If you haven’t been through something like cancer, you can’t know what I’m talking about. –David Jeremiah, “God in You,” p. 105.
I’ve had cancer. Seven years ago this month, the tests came back positive. The carcinoma was under my tongue. (The tongue! If you want to hurt a Baptist preacher, that’s the place!) We did surgery, then daily radiation for several months, and I’m 6 years cancer-free. It’s a grand feeling.
Here are the four elements of my gratitude, and perhaps of yours.
1. An appreciation for God’s mercy. WHEW!.
Mercy means: I did not get what was coming to me. God spared me. I had earned judgment and condemnation, but it was forgiven and I was pardoned.
By no stretch of the imagination do I believe I am alive today because I deserve to be here. The daily newspaper chronicles the departures of adults younger than me taken down by cancer. Why was mine caught in time and dealt with fully, and I’m still here, and they’re gone?
God knows the answer and no one else. But I’m grateful to be here. Thankful for His mercy.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He has saved us” (Titus 3:5).
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).
2. An awe about God’s grace. WOW!
Grace means: God gives me far more than I deserve. God blessed me. I deserved nothing, but God gave me everything.
In the years since the cancer business, I have done the Katrina-leadership thing for all the SBC churches in metro New Orleans and enjoyed going-on three years of retirement ministry all over this land. It’s all of grace, friend. And I’m thankful.
“His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us….” (II Peter 1:3).
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
3. An awareness of today’s blessings. WONDERFUL!
At the same time Pastor David Jeremiah was waging his war with cancer, a friend of his was engaged in the same struggle. Charles Page, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, and Pastor Jeremiah spoke in each other’s churches and encouraged one another in the Lord. Charles was called to Heaven; David was left to continue his ministry.
Dr. Jeremiah sees each new day, every opportunity, each friend, each blessing, as gifts from the Father’s hands.
Today, I am blogging on this website, writing articles for Baptist men (a ministry of the SBC North American Mission Board), teaching a class at our Baptist seminary, doing daily cartoons for the Baptist Press, and getting ready to preach at First Baptist-New Orleans next Sunday. Today I will have lunch with a pastor whom I’ve not met, but whom I know from the internet, who is in town for a couple of days.
Am I blessed? Incredibly blessed. Thank you, Lord.
4. An accumulated debt that shall never be paid, but on which I’ll be forever making payments. WOE IS ME.
(I’ve struggled with how to say this, with whether the first three points are adequate. But the sense of obligation within me has to be figured into this equation. I cannot lie in bed or sit in the yard and wait for old age to set in and death to claim me. There’s too much work to do, too many lives to touch, too much of Christ within me bursting to get out.)
Perhaps it was from looking back and remembering his own misguided efforts to do God’s work in the flesh that caused the Apostle Paul to see himself as a debtor.
I owe you. I owe God.
What drove the early apostles into foreign, often hostile, lands with the gospel of Jesus? A sense of gratitude for what God had done in them.
And so it comes down to these four things:
He forgave me: His mercy.
He gave me: His grace.
He uses me: His blessings.
I owe Him: My debt.
By the way, have I thanked you lately? For the privilege of being your friend, of hearing from you, of writing these thoughts and seeing them picked up and reused in various places? Such a blessing. For which I will forever be grateful.