Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)]
While taking photos in the park before church, I stopped to take a picture of a costumed dog. Personally, I think God blessed animals with fur so they wouldn’t have to wear clothes but the dog’s photo would make a cute addition to the church website. The dog’s person complained that Fluffy’s Christmas outfit had not yet arrived from Amazon. The following week, I came upon the same woman and her dog was now wearing a holiday ensemble. While I took the dog’s picture, Fluffy’s person lamented that the poor thing had to wear last year’s sweater with her new accessories. Apparently the pup had enjoyed a few too many treats over the year and the new sweater was too small. I wanted to tell her how thankful she should be to have a dog, let alone be able to feed and dress it, when some people can’t afford to feed and clothe their children. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit put his hand over my mouth and I realized that the dog probably fills a very empty place in her life.
I remembered that encounter as I ever so self-righteously began this devotion about giving thanks. The Holy Spirit, however, suggested I examine my own behavior before pointing fingers or casting stones at this woman. Granted, we probably don’t stress about dressing our dogs in seasonal attire but something tells me we’re really not that different. Like her, most of us are probably nowhere near as thankful about our blessings as we should be. How often do we compare what we have with what we want? We have a new coat, but now we want a scarf, new boots and gloves to go with it. We have a perfectly good house, but now we want to redecorate, remodel or even get a bigger one. We have a spouse, but we want him or her to be thinner, tidier, richer, or not to snore. We have a good job, but we want one that pays better, has shorter hours, a nicer boss, or longer vacations. We have a car, but now we want a newer sportier model or a second (or even third) one. We have healthy children, but they’re not the perfectly-behaved gifted athletic ones we’d planned on getting.
We all want what we don’t have, often while failing to appreciate what it is that we do have. Consider those people who have neither coat to wear nor roof over their heads. What of the widowed who would welcome an opportunity to pick up after a spouse or hear him snore again, the man who got a pink slip with his pay check last week, the woman who takes two busses to work or the grocery store, or the couples who struggle with infertility? They’d be thrilled to take what we are so anxious to find fault with, change or discard. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to improve our lives but, when we compare what we have to what we want, we’re bound to become dissatisfied. Perhaps, we should start comparing what we have to what it is we actually deserve. I know my blessings far outweigh anything I’ve ever done to deserve them. When I compare what I have to what I deserve, I’m filled with gratitude and joy.
Here’s something to consider: what if everything with which we found fault today disappeared tomorrow? Moreover, what if we woke up tomorrow with only the things for which we thanked God today?
Father, forgive us when we find fault where we should find gratitude and when we offer complaint instead of praise. Forgive our blindness to the blessings right in front of us. Give us thankful hearts and generous spirits. Thank you, dear Lord, for your limitless love and for not giving us what we deserve.
Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. … Good people see this and are glad; bad people are speechless, stopped in their tracks. If you are really wise, you’ll think this over—it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love. [Psalm 107:1,42-43 (MSG)]