Why Gratitude?

I think Saving Private Ryan is just about old enough to call an old war classic. ****SPOILER ALERT**** I am sure many of you know the gripping story of this movie where Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) leads his unit in search of Private Ryan (Matt Damon) so that Ryan’s mother does not have to endure the loss of another son. They will find him and will save him at the cost of each of their lives. Right as Miller is about to die he grabs Ryan and says, “Earn this.  Earn it.”  The movie opens and closes with Ryan, now as an elderly man, standing before the grave of  Miller literally weeping as he wonders if his life earned it.  The challenge seems right and good.  Ryan should seek to live worthy of the lives that were given so he could live. What a challenge, and yet, how awful. Who can do that? Who can say, “I lived in a way that was worth each of those men giving their lives?” It appears at the end of the movie the thought did not motivate Ryan, but rather haunted him.

I believe that to be a very gripping cinematic moment because it is something we all have to come to grips with because some actually did die for us. Not a captain, but someone of much higher rank. The Supreme Commander left headquarters to come and rescue us on the battlefield of sin where we were taking heavy losses and casualties. Jesus gave His life so we could live (Rom.5:6-8).

While the New Testament does challenge us likewise to walk worthy of that kind of love and sacrifice, it never once says, “Earn it.  Earn this.” We can’t. Who am I to say my life is worth another person’s life, or even more, the life of the Son of God? I can’t pay Jesus back. There is not a certain amount of good works that I can reach and say, “Done. I have paid Him back.” There is not a certain moral quality of life that I can lead that squares the account. Which then ultimately means I cannot feel anything but a sense of failure, and therefore, guilt. Church, good works, giving, resisting temptation that is all done out of guilt and will not lead us anywhere, but where we saw Private Ryan: empty and guilt-filled.

God and the Bible do not motivate us with guilt, but with grace. Gratitude is what gets our engine humming. So thankful that God would love and from that love rescue us from sin, death, and hell. The Bible does call us to be grateful and to give thanks. As a matter of fact, over and over and over it call us to give thanks every day, in everything, at all times. Gratitude is to clearly be one of the dominant characteristics of our lives. That would seem to be easy. We have so much to be thankful for: forgiveness, acceptance, eternal life, adoption into God’s family, heaven, the Bible, the Holy Spirit living in us, knowledge not just of the artwork, but the Artist. The list goes on and on. But Satan will make sure to keep in front of us the pain, loss and disappointment of this world. He will get us focused on the temporary. He will help us forget all the good. This is why the Bible commands, “forget none of His benefits,” (Ps.103:2). We need Thanksgiving, but we need it much more often than the third Thursday of November. We need it weekly, scratch that, daily. We need to be in the habit of thinking on that which we are grateful for so that our lives are filled with gratitude and not guilt before God.

I would encourage us today to not only think of all that you are thankful from God, but also others. Have you ever noticed it takes no effort to think on how a person has disappointed us or failed us. Our mind just naturally goes there, and camps out on it; but we have to stop and choose to think on someone’s goodness and be grateful for it. Don’t end the year, life, filled with guilt and questions about whether it was enough, and only seeing the short-comings. End this year filled with gratitude all that has been graciously given to you. Begin building a gratitude attitude to everything.

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