I want to learn to be grateful for all the Lord has given me. I don’t want to take God or anything he has given me—which is everything!—for granted. Brennan Manning says that people who have difficulty trusting especially need to learn gratitude; he calls it leading a doxological life, which is to say a life of continual praise and worship. I love reminding my freshman college students that if they graduate in four years having earned a bachelor’s degree, they will join the top 10 percent of the world’s educated elite. They should be extremely grateful, because 90 percent of the world does not get this educational opportunity. I also love to remind those of my students who were born in the United States that they had absolutely nothing to do with where they were born. I ask them whether they have ever stopped to be thankful that they were born in one of the richest countries the world has ever known.
When I look back on the fifty-nine years of my life, I am surprised at how much the Lord has blessed me. I have a wonderful wife and amazing kids—who have given me amazing grandkids. I have not gone without food, water, or shelter. I have owned houses, cars, and many possessions. I have been given a wonderful education, including a Ph.D. This ordinary boy who grew up in small towns of central Illinois has had the privilege of visiting more than twenty-five countries and has been given the opportunity to learn two languages in addition to his mother tongue. Moreover, I have been given opportunities to preach, teach, and publish. I have so much for which to be thankful!
Being grateful can help us in many ways. For one thing, it reminds us of our true wealth. I have always loved the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, and particularly the Angel Clarence’s inscription in the book he gave George Bailey: “No man is a failure who has friends.” I’ll never forget the day when I learned how wealthy I was. A few years ago, during one of my doctoral class trips to Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, I was riding in a shuttle van between the campus and the train station. Because I was the only one in the van that day, the driver asked whether I wanted to take a short detour to pass by Michael Jordan’s house. Because Michael has always been one of my basketball heroes, I jumped at the chance. We were able only to drive up to the iron gate in front of his house; we looked at the number 23 welded into it. I saw the guardhouse, and I saw lift trucks putting up Christmas lights on the trees lining Michael’s long driveway. As I reflected for a moment on the vast wealth of Michael Jordan, I was surprised at the thought that came into my mind: You, Mike, are wealthier than Michael Jordan. At that time Michael had gone through a failed marriage; moreover, as far as I knew, he was not a believer. When I thought of the value of my solid marriage to Julie as well as all the other spiritual blessings I had in Christ, the comparison wasn’t even close—I was much wealthier than Michael. Focusing on our death reminds us that we can take no possessions with us when we die. James Dobson recorded the prayer his father prayed the last time he saw him: “Thank you, God, for what we have, which we know we cannot keep . . .”
Especially when I travel, I am reminded of how grateful I am for my wife and family. Absence can truly make the heart grow fonder, serving as a stark reminder of who and what is most important. How quick we are to take for granted those whom we love! We forget how valuable people are to us until we don’t have them close to us. Because of how quickly we forget our blessings, we must train ourselves in the discipline of gratitude. Someone once challenged me to look at everything as if seeing it for the first time—or for the last time. The first will produce an attitude of wonder, the latter an attitude of gratitude. And how good it is to walk through every day we have on Earth in wonder and gratitude!
REFLECTIONS: Who and what are you often tempted to take for granted? Which of your abilities or possessions are you tempted to take for granted? Take an inventory of all your physical and spiritual blessings, reflect on how wealthy you are.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.