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FIRST-PERSON: Be thankful for what you have

HAYDEN, Idaho (BP)–“Be thankful for what you have.”

I imagine my parents said that to me at least 1,000 times when I was a kid, usually in response to a lament that I didn’t have something I really wanted.

Like many parents, mine worked hard to make sure my needs — and wants — were met to the extent possible and appropriate.

But others had it better than me. Occasionally I’d point this out and provoke my parents’ predictable response: “Be thankful for what you have.”

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you still struggle with this matter of thankfulness.

We’re all that way. Yes, we know our job provides for the family, but shouldn’t it be better? Sure, we’re glad we’ve got a roof over our head, but isn’t that house across town a lot nicer?

Certainly we concede our circumstances could be worse, but why doesn’t God permit them to be more in line with what we want?

Often when the Bible speaks of prayer, it reminds us to pray with a spirit of thankfulness. The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians to make their requests known to God, but from a heart of sincere appreciation, not selfish demand: “… But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). In other words, Paul said: “Be thankful for what you have.”

This battle with contentment rages most fiercely when our focus is on the temporal rather than the eternal. Jesus told His disciples, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

We spend much of life chasing after “all these things” when we’re focused on self and stuff and situations rather than what matters for eternity.

I have to confess, though, that my parents’ reminder didn’t always sit well.

“How trite,” I often thought. It was then that they sometimes took a few minutes to remind me what I had to be thankful for.

God’s Word does the same for us. Colossians 1:12-14 is an amazing recital of a Christian’s motive for thanksgiving.

It tells us first of all to give thanks because God “… has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (v. 12). God has qualified us for heaven.

If you watched the Olympics, you noticed that athletes have no hope to win a gold medal unless they first qualify for the final competition.

The Bible says that not a single person is good enough to qualify for eternal life. But in His grace, God has qualified us! He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins.

Anyone who trusts in Jesus alone for forgiveness of sin and eternal life is qualified for heaven.

But there’s more!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves …” (Colossians 1:13). In ancient times, when one kingdom conquered another, it often would take the defeated people and place them in the kingdom of the victors. Slavery and death awaited the conquered people.

God has done the opposite for us. Christians are those who have been plucked out of the kingdom of sin and death and placed in the kingdom of God.

Before we accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, we were slaves to sin. Praise God we have been set free.

I read recently that in the Civil War days, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, many slaves in the South went right on living as if they had not been set free. Imagine the tragedy of freed slaves living as if still captives.

The Bible says Christians have been emancipated, that we’ve been set free from the bondage of sin. How tragic that we sometimes live as if we’re still captives.

The highest price imaginable was paid for our freedom: Jesus’ death on the cross.

Finally, the Apostle Paul reminded the Colossians to give thanks because in Christ, “… we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (v. 14).

Speaking of President Lincoln, after the war he was asked how the Union should treat some of the rebellious Southerners.

Lincoln said, “I shall treat them as if they had never been away.”

How incredible that God extends to us something we could not possibly earn: forgiveness of sin.

Through Christ’s death on the cross, God redeems us. He regards those who were once separated from Him by sin as if they had never been away.

Do we sometimes wish for more in life? Is our focus on self and stuff and situations?

Let’s pick up our Bibles and consider what our heavenly Father tells us.

“Be thankful for what you have!”
Steve Massey is pastor of Haden Bible Church in Haden, Idaho.

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  • Steve Massey