In the two years of my oldest daughters life, we have taught her many things. We have been teaching since the day she was born. There are many things that we have had to instill in her. There are many other things that we have not had to teach her, but they came naturally. It is a common illustration in my teaching that you never have to teach children to do bad or selfish things, for they always come naturally. Instead, you have to teach them to think and do right things because those things don’t come naturally.
Over the past couple of months, my heart has melted pretty much every day since my daughter was able to form the words, “I love you Daddy.” It is a powerful phrase, especially when it is not just said, but visibly done. The times where it pierces the most is after I have had to discipline her and through the tears she says, “I am sorry Daddy, I love you.”
As she has learned how to love from Mandy and me, the phrase “I love you” is very often accompanied by hugs, kisses and times of affection. What we never thought of teaching her was when the affection should come with the words. That was taught. She learned that when she really wants to drive home that she loves us, she backs it up with a hug, and don’t forget the kiss because she will remind you. Those times are precious and they come from an understanding of the relationship that we have as father and daughter.
You see, my daughter knows that she is my daughter. We taught her that. She has learned that obedience and respect are responsibilities on her end. She has also seen that provision, encouragement, and affection are things that we love to give. These are a few basic elements of the parent-child relationship. But the existence and grounds of that relationship compel both of us not just to express our love with words, but also with action. And there is a great spiritual parallel to be found here.
As Christians, and especially Christians in America, we have a long list of privileges that we think we are entitled to. And consequently, we have a very short list of things that we are grateful for. This may sound pessimistic, but let me prove it to you: when is the last time that you thanked God for a paved road, a sidewalk to walk on, a church pew or chair to sit in in church, your car, or any number of the lesser things that we take for granted each day. If you know anything about the state of the church in other countries, it is humbling to think of the kind of gratitude that they would have for the existence of these kinds of things in their daily life.
So, how do we live a life of gratitude. How do we really “give thanks for everything” and live in appreciation and further our understanding of grace:
[start by thanking God for everything and then do it all over again]
The best way to start living with gratitude is just to start giving thanks. Look around you, think about your day and the things you use, the things that you steer away from, and the things that shelter you. Look at your closet. Flush your toilet. Listen to music. Smell your coffee or food in the morning…and give thanks for all these things. They are underserved blessings, not entitlements. Just because you bought them with your money does not mean that you earned them. They are gifts from God. Realize that and give Him praise. And don’t just enjoy the above mentioned things, but give verbal thanks to God in your enjoyment. Think about how this would break up the mundane and prefunctory nature of our pre-meal prayers! I have gotten into a habit of waiting to pray until I eat some of my food because after I eat some of it I am truly thankful for it. We must look around at the small things of life and embrace the opportunity to give thanks to God.
[start saying it to other people]
Express your thankfulness to God to other people as well. There is a distinct difference in the attitude of a person who is boasting in what they have and a person who is testifying of God’s goodness to them. The difference is the object of praise. In boasting, we are the object. I earned that, I bought that, I, I, I. When we speak of God’s goodness and grace He gets the glory and the hearer gets the blessing. More than likely, your attitude of thanksgiving will be contagious and you will find that others will follow your example. What a great way of evangelism!
[start with discipline]
A good friend once told me that discipline is where we begin, but desire is the goal. Once the habits of discipline have taken root you have a sustained desire instead of a fleeting emotion. That is what we need. We don’t need gratitude that is here today, gone tomorrow. We need a disciplined gratitude. Make out a list of the small things and then take three or four every day of the month and just give God praise for them. Write out a reminder to “Thank God for…” and put it in various places where you would see it randomly. Remind yourself and the attitude will come.
God is worthy of all praise. He has poured out His grace and mercy on us in salvation. Our sins have been forgiven, God’s wrath has been placed on Jesus when we should have bore it. God has given us new hearts that lept in faith when we saw Jesus. He has poured out blessing upon blessing upon blessing on our lives. Security, shelter, clothes, shoes, socks, underwear, chocolate (amen!)…all for our satisfaction. They are icing on the cake. But give Him praise for it all. And do this with your life…and you will be blessed more than you already are.