I recently took a survey that revealed my most-used words on Facebook: “spiritual,” “awesome,” “wonderful,” “Knicks.” (Being the New York sports fan I am, those words don’t really go together.) But the survey brought to mind an important, hypothetical scenario: If God were to run a report of the words I use regularly, how high would the words “thank you” be on that list?
Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about whether we say thank you when someone holds the door or gives us a gift. (Everyone does that.) I’m talking about a life that is shaped by gratitude and thanksgiving.
The thankful test
One of the ways to assess our level of gratitude is to take a simple test. Let’s call it the “thankful test.”
The test is based on three simple questions that offer a window into our lives and reveal how prominent gratitude is. They are:
How much time do you give to comparing?
How much time do you give to complaining?
How much time do you give to coveting?
Comparing, complaining, coveting
I know firsthand how easy it is to root my life in these three activities. No matter how successful or celebrated I may become, there’s something in me that says it’s not enough.
This especially comes to the surface whenever I see someone with more than I have. I’m reminded of this famous response from John D. Rockefeller after a reporter asked the question, “How much money is enough?” Rockefeller responded, “Just a little bit more.” I’ve been there. Just a little bit more book sales. Just a little bit more congregants in our church. Just a little bit more followers on social media. It’s easy to give our lives to comparing and forget that what God has given us is good.
It’s also possible to complain our way out of gratitude. Certainly, there’s much to complain about, but human nature has a way of fixating on everything that’s wrong. There is beauty surrounding us every day. Will we allow ourselves to focus on problems so much that we miss out on the gifts God has set before our very eyes and lose our sense of wonder? It’s no wonder Jesus said we need to become like children or we will never enter and see the beauty of heaven.
Just as concerning is the common experience of coveting (desiring what someone else has). I remember fondly the joy that filled my heart when I purchased my third car. My first car – purchased in 1998 – was a 1989 Oldsmobile Royale. There was nothing “royale” about it. My uncle sold it to me for $1,500. Within two months, it broke down. My second car was a 1988 Nissan Sentra. I know you’re probably thinking, “Rich, you’re going backwards.” A man in my church sold it to me for $1,000. Well, the Sentra sent me to the mechanic far too many times in the first few months. Soon after the purchase, it broke down.
My third car was a 1995 Nissan Altima. I absolutely loved it … until I saw a friend driving a Jaguar. After riding in it, I looked at my car and thought, what a piece of junk. I need a Jaguar in my life.
Comparing. Complaining. Coveting. The stories change, but these three enemies of gratitude remain.
How, then, can we ensure we’re living with hearts shaped by thanksgiving? Psalm 107 helps us:
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 107:1
We learn an important lesson in this short verse: Gratitude is formed as we set our hearts on God’s goodness.
Gratitude is the awareness that we are the recipients of goodness. It’s a deliberate, contemplative examination of the gifts already in our possession. To live this way is fraught with challenge because society perpetually reminds us of everything we don’t have.
Our country goes through a unique, 48-hour cultural whiplash every year. We gather around our tables on Thanksgiving and offer words of gratitude for God’s provision. And that interaction with God and within our families can begin to transform us. Then, just a few hours later, Black Friday arrives, and we say with our lives, “God, it’s not nearly enough.”
The psalmist kept his eyes focused on God in gratitude for his love. The writer of Hebrews tells us we can do the same: We, with unveiled faces, can fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith. We can stay there – for longer than a moment – and dwell in the goodness of what he’s done for us and the love he’s shown us.
In Hebrew, hesed is one of the most important words in Scripture. It speaks to the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained love of God. Focusing on this will produce gratitude. But we have to remain in it to be formed by it.
Examine your life in light of God’s love. Consider the mercy God has shown you. Ponder the forgiveness God has lavished. Reflect on the provision God has bestowed. Contemplate the generosity of God toward you in Christ!
It’s easy to fix our hearts on what we might not have. But when this happens, our hearts, as well as our hands, close. As we give our attention to what we have received in Jesus, our hearts and our hands have a way of opening.
When we begin to recognize the gifts already present in our lives, things begin to change inside us:
Our comparing turns into contentment.
Our complaining turns into praise.
Our coveting turns into gratitude.
So then, “oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
A practice around your Thanksgiving table
Lead those with you on Thanksgiving in this prayer:
Lord, it is so easy for me to fall into the trap of comparing, complaining, and coveting. Give me the grace to set my heart on the gifts already before me. May the gratitude I have lead to greater generosity in life. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
1. Take a moment to read Psalm 107:1 together. Read it aloud three times. You can read the first sentence and let your friends or family respond with the second, if you like.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 107:1
2. Consider how you’ve been comparing, complaining or coveting. Take 20 seconds of silence to offer these things to God, and ask for his grace to help you live with contentment, praise, and gratitude.
3. Go around the table and share one thing you are grateful for this year. (If it’s a large group, you can limit the amount of sharing.)
November 16, 2022
Rich Villodas is the lead pastor at New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York. He’s the author of Good and Beautiful and Kind and The Deeply Formed Life, which won Christianity Today’s book award in 2020. He lives in New York with his wife, Rosie, and their two children. To learn more about Rich, visit richvillodas.com.
*First published by National Christian Foiundation.
Rich really says it all. Take the test. It doesn’t matter where in America you live, you are still in the top one percent compared to most of the third world. That’s where our comparison should be. In the U.S. we are looking through the telescope from the wrong end. When we do we can start to complain and then covet. Let’s start by flipping the telescope around and looking at the world from the proper end. Begin with what you have, not what you don’t.
What do you think? Where is your hook that pulls you around and causes you to look at the world from wrong end of the telescope?