“…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
When Paul spoke to his young protégé, Timothy, about a reprobate generation that would come in the last days, he said that they would be “unthankful, unholy, unloving, (and) unforgiving,” along with a host of other things are are equally unflattering (see 2 Timothy 3:1-5). I think that we could make a great case that we are living in that generation. All of these characteristics are typical of an a godless, ego-centric “me” generation, that sees themselves as entitled to certain rights, benefits, and privileges, regardless of whether they have earned them or not. This is indeed the entitlement generation, which is the antithesis of a grateful generation.
Everyone is protesting today, from special interest groups, to students on college campuses, to disgruntled fast-food employees. In some places the latter have been led to believe that even the most entry level jobs are worthy of a minimum wage that has already proven to be unsustainable. Consequently, those jobs which use to pay a reasonable wage that was never intended to sustain one beyond high school or community college, have disappeared, as employers have found automation to be preferred choice over the high-maintenance, perpetually disgruntled employee who may accuse his boss of some before-unknown litigable offense. The fact is, we don’t hear a lot in the way of expressions of gratitude from this generation, so much as demands for a redress of wrongs, real or imagined, for which they are demanding unrealistic compensation. We look to broken men to heal our broken hearts and fix our broken world. Somebody has to fix all this, and the responsibility never seems to fall on the individual. Some one else, or society in general, is to blame for life’s disappointments and lost opportunities.
It wasn’t always like this. When I was younger, the world was different, and it wasn’t really that long ago. When someone gave us our first job, we were thankful, and none of us expected the wage to be much more than a token earning for our unskilled but honorable labor that would help to teach us responsibility and a good work ethic. It was a little spending money for the weekend or to save up for something that we would truly appreciate because we earned it. That little lesson in economics was our first taste of the “real world,” where Mom and Dad didn’t open every door, or make excuses for us. If we got fired, they didn’t march down and demand to know from our employer why their little darling got canned, but told us that we had to learn to be responsible if we were going to succeed in life. They taught us that decisions have consequences, for good or for ill, and that no one owed us anything. Because of these lessons in life, we learned to be thankful when good things came our way, because we realized that every door that opened for us came by way of the generosity of someone who worked hard to be in a position to give us our first opportunities in life.
Today the narrative has changed, and it seems that the loudest voices in the room are complaining that they haven’t gotten their fair share, that they have been kept from reaching their potential by those who are loading the deck against them, despite the fact that many are making these protests from Ivy league campuses, making the irony too rich for words. But in all sincerity, I believe that there is a reason why Paul lumped “unthankful” along with “unholy, unloving, and unforgiving,” all of which, as we said before, are symptomatic of a selfish generation.
Thankfulness is the ultimate perspective changer. It takes the focus off ourselves and puts it somewhere else; indeed, on Someone else. It looks to a gracious and benevolent Sovereign who is the source of all earthly blessing, who offers a life of value and significance for all who will surrender to His purpose. Thankfulness makes us stop and realize that those at whom we’ve been shouting for our “equal opportunity” are not at all the ones who hold our future, but that there is One from whom all true favor flows. Thankfulness humbles us, because it makes us realize that we are recipients of His divine beneficence, rather than the victims we tried to portray ourselves to be. Thankfulness teaches us that we are prospered by His favor and not overlooked, and that we have a High and Heavenly Court to which we can appeal for the redress of real wrongs, not that we might find vengeance for ourselves, but true justice for everyone. Thankfulness forces us to acknowledge that we are not the lone “hero” of our own struggle, as we would like to think, but that there is One who is, and has been all along, working behind the scenes, in the shadows of our lives, that we might one day realize our full potential in Him. Thankfulness helps us to remember from whom our blessings come, thus ending our blaming of others for what we feel we have failed to receive.
We desperately need a restoration of those heavenly graces in our society that ennoble the soul and improve the human condition; graces like generosity, mercy, patience, longsuffering, and gratitude – none of which we can own apart from the transforming work of Christ, in whom we must trust and by whom God has met our every need. It is gratitude that enables us to be hopeful, remembering Him who is always faithful. Gratitude points us irresistibly to grace by which Heaven’s bounty comes, not to the deserving or entitled, but to the lowly and undeserving. Thankfulness keeps our eyes heavenward for our answers. Without it, they are turned downward to our hurting world, in which no such grace or answers, apart from Him, can be found. Without gratitude, we become pessimistic and cynical, as we lose our heavenly vision for one of man’s repeated and disappointing attempts to right his broken rudder and straighten his sinking ship.
We can spend a lifetime blaming others, shouting at the wind, and flailing our arms in protest, or we can quietly look with thankful confidence to the One who holds us in His heart and our future in His hands. Thankful people have found sufficiency in Him, and thus, they can help to bring healing and help to others, asking nothing in return. This is a life of real security, knowing that our lives are not in the hands of fickle, faltering humanity, but in the God who never fails. This week, as we offer our thanks, let it be that of a people who remember from whom our blessings flow and in whom our future is secure.