Thanks, Just the Word Lifts the Spirit

"Gratitude is a dialysis of sorts. It flushes the self-pity out of our systems." Max Lucado

I’m thankful for…

Andy. He’s the dog Denalyn rescued from the shelter. Rangy as a coyote when we got him. He’s chubby now. He jumps into bed with us every morning and scampers through the yard like a deer in the pasture when we come home.

Bald spots. I was standing in line at a convenience store when I spotted one on the security screen. That guy is losing his hair. Then I realized that guy was me. My bald spot is spreading like a rain puddle. Might as well be grateful. Besides, bald starts with a b.

Chocolate starts with a c. So today I’m thankful for chocolate. Chocolate cookies, candy, cakes, and shakes. Chocolate would’ve kept Adam and Eve away from the tree and the sailors happy on the Bounty.

Dictionaries. Someone has to define words. If d-o-g meant “cat” to you and “rat” to me, we wouldn’t know which to catch and which to pet. I’m thankful for dictionaries. And I’m thankful for…

Exercises like this one. It was Denalyn’s idea. Alphabetize your blessings. Rather than catalog burdens, itemize benefits. The sure cure for the grumpy spirit. A = Andy. B = bald spot. C = chocolate. D = dictionary. It dawns on me that Denalyn begins with a d.

The next time I make the list, my wife trumps dictionary. Which, by the way, is a lesson of the exercise. A person never runs out of reasons to say “thanks.” Thanks. Just the word lifts the spirit. To say thanks is to celebrate a gift. Something. Anything. Animals. Bald spots. Chocolate. Dictionaries and Denalyn. To say thanks is to cross the tracks from have-not to have-much, from the excluded to the recruited. Thanks proclaims, “I’m not disadvantaged, disabled, victimized, scandalized, forgotten, or ignored. I am blessed.”

Gratitude is a dialysis of sorts. It flushes the self-pity out of our systems.

In Scripture the idea of giving thanks is not a suggestion or recommendation; it is a command. It carries the same weight as “love your neighbor” and “give to the poor.” More than a hundred times, either by imperative or example, the Bible commands us to be thankful. If quantity implies gravity, God takes thanksgiving seriously.

Here’s why. Ingratitude is the original sin. Adam and Eve had a million reasons to give thanks. The waterfalls and fowl, shorelines and sunsets. God found Eden so delightful, He strolled through it in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Adam and Eve found the garden so safe, they wore no clothing (Genesis 2:25). They had nothing to hide and no one to hide from. They indwelt a perfect world. One with creation, one with God, one with each other. Eden was a “one-derful” world. Press your ear against the early pages of Genesis, and you’ll hear Eden in concert.

But then came the snake. Satan slithered into the garden. He raised a question about the forbidden tree. Adam and Eve could eat from all the others. But Satan focused on the single fruit they could not touch. “‘Eat it,’ he hissed, ‘and you will be like God’” (Genesis 3:5 NLT).

Just like that, Eden was not enough. It was enough, mind you. Ecological harmony. Relational purity. Spiritual peace. Adam and Eve had all they would ever need. God had told them, “I have given you every seedbearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food” (Genesis 1:29 NLT).

They had their very own produce section. “But there could be more…,” suggested the devil, gesturing to the shiny, glimmering delicacy that lay just across the boundary line. And with that thought Eve felt the first flush of discontent. Rather than ponder the garden of fruit she had, she examined the one fruit God forbade. Discontent moved in like a bully on the block.

What if gratitude had won the day? Suppose an unbedazzled Adam and Eve had scoffed at the snake’s suggestion. “Are you kidding? Begrudge what we cannot eat? Have you seen this place? Strawberry patches. Melon fields. Orange groves. Blueberry bushes. Let us take you on a tour, snake. We will show you what God has given to us.”

Had they chosen gratitude, would the world be different?

If you choose gratitude, will your world be different?

Oh, the hissing we hear. Don’t you want more? More horsepower. More gigabytes. More legroom. More testosterone.

The white whale of want swims our waters. But God has given Ahab a harpoon: gratitude. So, thank you, Lord, for…

Flights, even the full and delayed ones. I don’t have to walk.

Golf — that I play it so poorly, others look great.

Heaven. I’ll mention Heaven this week at the funeral of a baby. The parents will ask me, and I will tell them, “You will see your daughter in Heaven.” Extract Heaven from the human story, and I am mute. I have nothing to offer. Include it, and gratitude appears even in a graveside service.

“Give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 HCSB). In everything? In trouble, in the hospital, in a fix, in a mess, in distress? In…

Interruptions. Jesus did. When five thousand people interrupted His planned retreat, He took them out to lunch. “Then He told the people to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish and, looking to Heaven, He thanked God for the food” (Matthew 14:19 NCV, emphasis mine).

Jesus was robustly thankful. He was thankful when Mary interrupted the party with perfume. When He hugged children and blessed babies and watched blind people look at their first sunsets, Jesus was thankful. When the disciples returned from their first mission trip, he rejoiced: “I thank You, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21).

Thank you, …

Jesus, for modeling gratitude. Thank you, …

King Jesus, for taking charge, for working all things together for good. Thank you for letting…

Love happen. Because I am on the lookout for reasons to be grateful, I spotted love today. The weathered and intertwined hands of an elderly couple in the appliance store. The eager face of a boy catching a ball from his dad in the front yard. Love. Look for love, and you’ll find it. Look for…

Miracles. You’ll find them too. Rebecca did. She has spent the last three years in pain. “On a scale of one to ten,” the doctor explained, “she is a twelve every day.” Rebecca’s pancreas has shut down. After a dozen operations and changes in medication, no solution is in sight.

Pretty tough challenge. But Rebecca is a tough kid. She is ten years old. She has fudge-brown hair, eyes that sparkle, a weatherproof smile, and a book of miracles. She showed it to me. I thought she was asleep. Her mom and I conversed in whispered tones in the corner of the hospital room. Homemade sketches hung on the walls. A covey of stuffed animals occupied the couch. Someone had sent a cookie bouquet. I eyed it.

“Mommy.” Rebecca’s voice was groggy.

“What, honey?”

“Can you show Mr. Max my Miracle Book?”

It’s a spiral notebook, edges weathered, adorned with crayoned flowers, stars, and an occasional clown. In the handwriting of a child, miracles:

“I slept all night last night.”

“Daddy snuck a puppy into the hospital.”

“Mommy is going to place a Christmas tree in the corner.”

Her body is in revolt. Her parents are concerned. The doctors are confused. But Rebecca has made a decision. She is going to thank God for miracles. If Rebecca can find reasons to say thanks, can’t I?

So the appreciation delineation continues:

Naps. The miracle that happens on a couch on Saturday afternoons.

Oh,” as in “Oh, it is beautiful.” “Oh, it’s a girl.” “Oh, that tastes great.” I’ve never said thanks for all the ohs. Which is a shame, for aren’t there so many?

Ponds: flat circles of moisture.

Queens, New York. I ate Korean food there one July day and met the nicest folks. Never thought to thank God for them until now.

Running water. Hot showers. Flowing faucets. Flushing toilets. I’m never more than a few strides from good plumbing. How kind of God! Gratitude turns every shower into a celebration. Nothing silences grumps like gratitude.

I’ve read about the grumbling Israelites. “They began to speak against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?… And we hate this horrible manna!’” (Numbers 21:5 NLT).

Had they forgotten God’s deliverance? The Red Sea became the red carpet. Manna fell like silver dollars. They danced the Jubilee jig and carried Moses on their shoulders. They were grateful at first.

But with the passage of time, ingratitude took over. So they bellyached. They complained about the room service and pool temperature. It wasn’t enough to escape slavery; they wanted manis, pedis, and facials. They turned sour and dour.

God responded with an object lesson for the ages. He unleashed snakes into their camp. Scaled vermin slid through their tents. Toxic fangs everywhere. Shades of Eden. The symbolism is inescapable. Ingratitude is a devil’s brew. It will kill you.

Many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed! (Numbers 21:6-9 NLT)

The cure for ingratitude? Look up! Behold the dead snake on the pole. Lift up your eyes! Look what God has done!

The snake is defeated. Look up! The Son of Man has come. Look up. You have a…

Savior, forgiving sin. You have…

Triumph over death! A…

Universe reclaimed! A…

Victory that no one can take!

God’s solution to any challenge is simply this: a grateful spirit. No mist is so thick that the sunlight of appreciation cannot burn it away. Case in point? Jack Ryan.

Pastors aren’t supposed to have favorites, I know. But Jack has always been one of mine. You’d more quickly find a moose on the moon than Jack with a complaint. He’s a seventy-year-old, silver-haired saint, quick to smile and encourage. Always seated near the front of the sanctuary, lifting his hands to worship from the first song to the final verse.

I went to see him at his home last week. He’d been absent for some time. Heart disease had sucked the strength out of his body. Sleep was scarce. Energy even more so. I sat in the chair next to his, reached across, and took his hands.

“Jack,” I asked, “I hear you aren’t doing well?”

“Oh, Max,” he corrected with a weak smile. “Never better.”

“They say you can’t sleep.”

“No, I can’t. But I can pray.”

His eyes danced as he tilted his head. “I just talk to Jesus, Max. I tell him I love him. I tell him how good he is. I tell him, ‘Thanks.’ These are good times for me. I’m just talking to Jesus.”

Poor circulation took Jack’s color. Disease sapped his vigor. His hands trembled. Skin draped like cloth from his bones. Yet you’d have thought he was a kid on Christmas Eve.

In a sense he was. Early the next morning he went home to Jesus. Who is the real victor in life? Is it not the person who dies with a thankful and hope-filled spirit? How do we die with gratitude? We live with it. We thank God for the …

Walks with friends.

X-rays, xylophones, and extra grace God gives when we run out of words that start with x.

I read about a lawyer who won a case for his client. The two men celebrated with a nice dinner. At the end of the meal, the client handed the lawyer a fine wallet made of Moroccan leather. “Please accept this as my token of appreciation.”

The lawyer resisted. “No, I can’t settle for a wallet. My fee is $500.”

The client looked at the lawyer and shrugged. “Whatever you say.” He opened the wallet and extracted two $500 bills. He reinserted one and handed the lawyer the wallet.

Don’t be too quick in your assessment of God’s gifts to you. Thank him. Moment by moment. Day by day. Thank God for…

Yellow-bellied flycatchers and…

Zebras.

Thank God for everything.

Excerpted with permission from Before Amen by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

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Your Turn

Max laid out a fun way to count blessings. Do you think you’ll try this method? How do you express your gratitude daily? Come share on our blog!

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