Sometimes as a parent, I think, your job is to teach your children the habits and traits that will serve them well in the world. Take, for example, how to handle money. We have tried from an early age to help our kids know how to divide the money they have into a plan, giving some, saving some, devoting some to things they need, and then finally having some set aside to buy things they want.
Or, for example, the way they eat. Our kids have often bemoaned the fact that being a kid means having to eat what they’re told instead of exactly what they want, and how they can’t wait to be an adult so they can have Sprite with every meal and chase everything down with a candy bar. We try to emphasize to them that not only is it not healthy to do so, but actually living like that will reduce the amount they enjoy both their Sprite and candy bars.
Or, in another example, that simple acts of politeness will go a long way for them in the future. Saying “please” and “thank you” are simple, easy ways to not only show respect for others, but also to get what you want in a lot of cases. People respond to that kind of politeness in a world of privilege and entitlement.
These are all good tips for kids to have in their minds, but if we don’t as parents emphasize that there is a spiritual component to all these things, then we are selling them short. If we never help them see the spiritual that drives the tangible actions, then we might be creating good citizens, but we aren’t raising gospel-centered kids. We might be raising kids who are successful in the world, but we aren’t raising kids who are mighty in the kingdom.
It’s not enough, then, to help them manage a personal budget; we must teach them that money is a tool but a seductive one which, if not handled shrewdly, will draw their hearts away from God.
It’s not enough to teach them to eat in a healthy way; we must teach them that their bodies are temples and we must honor them as such.
And it’s not enough to teach them to say please and thank you; we must teach them that these, too are deeply spiritual matters.
These are not just lessons we teach to our children though; they are also for ourselves. When it comes to the last of these things, the issue of gratitude, it is a hard learned lesson indeed. How, then, can we move our gratitude out of the realm of “good advice for a good life” and into the truly God-honoring and spiritual realm it’s meant to exist in? It’s by recognizing at least these two aspects of God-honoring gratitude:
1. Gratitude is a choice.
“Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). Don’t miss the fact that this verse is not a suggestion; it’s not a maxim; it’s not a trite saying to help you have an attitude of optimism. This is a command. What’s more, Paul says that this is unequivocally God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Among other things, this means that gratitude is bigger than circumstance. Most of the time, in fact, gratitude is a choice you have to make apart from the circumstances you’re in. When everything in your life makes you feel like a victim and the siren song of self-pity creeps up on you, the way you beat it back is through gratitude.
But let’s be careful here lest we think Paul is advocating a kind of gratitude that can very quickly devolve into some kind of positive thinking mumbo jumbo. That’s not godly gratitude; that’s sentimentalism, which leads us to the second thing we must recognize about God-honoring gratitude:
2. Gratitude is rooted in God’s character.
What keeps our gratitude from devolving into sentimentalism? It’s the fact that God-honoring gratitude is rooted in God’s own character. This is what elevates our level of gratitude past circumstance; it’s what lifts our souls with life seems to be caving in. When we center our gratitude on the character of God, then we can trust that He is, despite what our circumstances tell us, working for our good. He is, despite what our circumstances tell us, bringing all things together under Christ. He is, despite what our circumstances tell us, still in control of even the minutia of life. We know this not by what our senses or our feelings tell us, but instead through faith which goes beyond the realm of those senses.
We know this by looking to the cross, where God’s character is most fully and completely displayed. We see at the cross the extent of the justice and wrath rightly directed at us and we see the extent of His grace and love when He redirected that same justice and wrath toward His Son. We look to the cross, and we see God as both just and the One who justifies. When we do, then we are truly thankful.