The word thanksgiving is not used in the story of Zacchaeus, but it pulses in every sentence. The man radiates gratitude — so glad Jesus sees him, so glad Jesus comes to his house, so glad to give his wealth away, ill-gotten or not.
Thankfulness perhaps is the best way to steward all the seasons and, in all of them, to keep turning toward the light and to keep walking in it. Thankfulness is not so much an act of orientation. It’s the way of facing the world, of receiving it and, when needed, overcoming it. Thankfulness is the Rosetta stone that deciphers all of life, the plain and the puzzling, the good and the bad. It is the philosopher’s stone that turns common things into precious things. It is the fulcrum with which we can move the world.
Here’s why: thankfulness incarnates faith in the sovereign goodness of God. We can speak all of the lofty phrases we want about God’s sovereign goodness, but the proof is in the thanking. The Bible tells us to give thanks for all things and in all things. It tells us not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests before God (Philippians 4:6). Only thankfulness on this scale is an incontestable sign we believe what we say. It is the single most convincing testimony beyond our spoken testimony that we’ve put our hope in the God who vindicates and saves. Murmuring, complaining, blaming, whining, self-pity — all these and more are an open denial that our God reigns. If someone — let’s say the proverbial man from Mars — were given the task of deriving Christian theology from our typical commentary and conversations,, what might he conclude? That our God is stingy, lazy, indifferent, impotent — unable or unwilling to help. That in our God’s hands, all things work together for bad.
Which is opposite of what a Philippian jailer and his holding tank of inmates concluded the night they heard Paul and Silas down in the lowest, darkest cell. If ever there were two men who earned the right to bellyache, it was them. They have been stormed by a mob, beaten by order of the magistrate, and imprisoned and shackled by the Roman prison guard, all for doing a good deed — freeing a young slave girl in captivity to an evil spirit. All of it was rankly unfair, physically agonizing, and personally humiliating. How do these men deal with that?
They sing. They pray. “About midnight Paul and Silas we’re praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners listened to them” (Acts 16:25).
I bet they were.
An earthquake happens next, and all the doors fly open, all the chains shake loose. But no one makes a run for it. Everybody stays put. By the night’s end, the prison guard and his family will have embraced Christ and been baptized in His name. They’ll all be standing in the light. And those prisoners, those listening prisoners. What about them?
My guess is that at least one or two stepped into the light, astonished to witness two men who were so convinced that their God is good, is sovereign, that the only one response they could think of after horrific misfortune befell them was to pray and to sing. Thankfulness was Paul and Sila’s testimony beyond their testimony, and if their preaching sometimes failed to convince, their gratitude clinched the deal.
If you wantto steward every season and derive the full benefit of each, give thanks in all things, and give thanks for all things. Train yourself in this. It doesn’t mean pretending everything in your life is good. It means trusting God, trusting Him always, that He is able and willing to work all things, even the worst things, together for good.
Start small, if you must. As Anne Lamott says, when you’re learning to forgive, you don’t start with the Nazis. Well, when you’re learning to give thanks, you don’start with the Nazis either, or 9/11, or global warming, or the AIDS/HIV epidemic, or the war in whatever part of the world war rages. Start with the things you can genuinely be thankful for, but which you may take for granted. Like your shoes. Your clothes. A car that, at at least most of the time, runs. A fridge that, at a minimum, keeps the milk cold. And thank Him for the milk, for that matter. And thank Him for a device — almost for certain one of these is merely steps from you as you read this — that with the simple flick of your wrist gushes clean water, hot or cold, or a lovely mingling of the two. Thank Him for your church. Thank Him for your neighbors — yes, even that one, who at least, and without even trying, has deepened your prayer life. Thank God for your mother. And your mother-in-law. Thank Him for the green grass and blues skies and pizza and good coffee, and for any friend who knows you well and still likes you. Thank Him that you can thank Him — that you gave sufficient breath and sanity, and He is the kind of God who listens. The list of things to be thankful for is very long.
Make it a daily practice of that, and what will happen is you will start to see the world differently. More light. More of your life will look and feel like pure gift — the clouds that bring rain, the wind that sweeps the clouds, the cat that wakes the wolf inside your dog, who in turn wakens the lion inside the cat, the food you ate today, the step machine that helps you burn the calories from the food, the way your wife arches her eyebrows at you in playful rebuke, the semi-interesting sermon your pastor preached last week, the pew you sat on to hear it.
Gifts, all of them.
And once your world gets bigger, more light-saturated, it will become easier to thank God for things that do not look or feel like gifts: sicknesses and recession and wintertime and sitting in a prison with a bleeding back.
You might get so good at this, even there, you’ll sing.
Never know who might be listening.
In C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawntreader, a company of adventurers makes a journey to World’s End, where the Kingsom of Aslan begins. The closer they get, the more intense the light becomes. Yet as they drink from the ocean, which is not salty but sweet, and hearty as a meal, its properties strengthen their eyes so that, though the light is increasingly brilliant, it doesn’t hurt them. “They could look straight up at the sun and without blinking. They could see more light than they had ever seen before. And the deck and the sail and their own faces and bodies became brighter and every rope shone. And the next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it” (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawntreader (1952; Hamandsworth, Middlesex: Puffin Books, 1977), 194-95.)
Lewis must have been thinking of the writings of the apostle John, which I’ve leaned on almost exclusively in this chapter. John wrote a gospel and three epistlesin which he talks much about the Light. And he also wrote the final book of the Bible, Revelation. His final decision is of the New Jerusalem, the city on a hill — in fact, on a mountain. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:5). Here what John sees: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light. . . . On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there” (Revelation 21:23-25).
That’s a lot of light. And how blessed we are that even now we walk by it. And one day, we’ll look full into it and not blink.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
Radiant gratitude can be equated with thankfulness. Thankful that you have breath to breathe. In fact, you can be thankful for every breath you breathe since without your breath you would certainly die. For Americans, they are thankful for veterans day which is coming up. In fact, Veterans Day is 11/11 less than a week away. For it is the observance of Veteran’s Day that America’s retired military men get honored from the rest of America.. Truly, we can be thankful for just about anything. However, it depends on your perspective.
You can have a circumstantial perspective based on your circumstances, or you can have a God-centered perspective, and the two can happen simultaneously based on every circumstance that you have. Each time, you have the responsibility to choose. It’s not a one-and-done deal. In this life, before the eternal one, it is constant. Like breathing, you do it so naturally that it loses it surprising ability to have radiant gratitude to be thankful..
If I must, I am thankful that God saved me. Before I just took it for granted. However, now I thank Him pretty much every day for saving my soul. I thank Jesus for joyfully accepting the crucifixion on behalf of True Life Christians like me and those who don’t accept Him. Very shortly, those who decide to reject Jesus Christ in this world will have “hell” to pay for their bad decision in the next life. But after I get done thanking the Father (Matthew 6:9 [ESV]), I move on to Jesus Christ the Son thanking Him for being joyfully willing to give His life for the sake of all of us (John 3:15-16). Then I move on to the Holy Spirit because without the Holy Spirit in the lives of True Life Christians, we wouldn’t have that inner being, that inner Helper that corrects and rebukes to make us more like Christ (John 16:7-8).
Yet I also have to remember to thank God for things that don’t seem like blessings but one day they are. I could use many things that fall into this category like the time in January 2007 I lost my job because I had openly brought a Bible to work and I quietly was perusing it. However, my assistant manager was clearly known as a pot (marijuana) smoker and other illegal things, although it was hearsay. That bothered me to be known as the most effective manager but have a secret illegal thing as your legacy. I never had thought of a person rising to the manager level while having that sort of reputation.. However, this was known, and the agency turned a blind-eye to it since he did other amazing stuff that wasn’t illegal. I was a stellar employee for the short-time I worked there, but on the word of that assistant I lost my job during the probationary period.
Many negative thoughts entered my mind as I was driving home. “What was I going to tell my wife?” “How can this happen to me, Lord?” “I thought that this was my God-chosen profession?” “Am I to look for another?” Thoughts kept running through my head. Yet, it was not until several years later that I got my answer from God why I was fired — God clued me in that I was reading the Bible while other staff worked on there college work.
However, God used my probationary employment there for a purpose — He used my probationary employment to witness to that assistant manager, staff, and clients. God used me in a way I never thought He would. Which brings that famous verse from Romans 8:28 —
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
“How Do You Measure Your Spiritual Growth?” ~ An Interview with Mark Buchanan on ‘Spiritual Rhythm’
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~