Grateful in all Things - 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Tainted Gratitude

And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. Then Haman said, “Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” – Esther 5:11-13 ESV

In the story of Esther, the villain is a man named Haman. His selfishness and ambition have him fighting against anyone he doesn’t like; his ultimate nemesis being Queen Esther’s uncle, Mordecai. After Mordecai doesn’t bow or defer to him in anyway, Haman goes home to pout to his friends and his wife.

Haman starts listing all the great things in his life: money, large family, and promotions in the royal court. If the story stopped there, it would almost sound like Haman is doing a wonderful job of practicing gratitude. Isn’t that what we’re told to do when we’re struggling with a problem or perspective issue? We’re supposed to stop and count our blessings and keep things in perspective. Haman, however, is a very evil man. All this focus on his blessings only leads him to hate Mordecai more and agree to his wife’s awful plan to kill him. Why does him listing blessing foreshadow murder when we’re told it’s helpful for us?

Gratitude isn’t about focusing on what you have, purely for the sake of recognizing how awesome you have it. It’s not about listing what you’ve accomplished or how the world sees you. All those things still keep you at the center of your own attention. It is easy to use our view of our blessings, even the ones we fully give God credit for, and then to use that to be about us. We make it about what we’ve accomplished, or how hard we worked, or what we did for those people, or how much we’ve earned what we have.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

Gratitude is supposed to be about a perspective shift to focusing less on yourself and more on God. It should be about seeing God in all our circumstances and blessing him for who He is. 1 Chronicles 16:34 says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” Give thanks why? Because God is good. Not because I accomplished good things, and not because I’m comfortable and not because I have more blessings that most of the world.

Haman’s listing of his accomplishments was to add fuel to the fire that he deserved the homage he wanted from Mordecai. He wasn’t being grateful, he was puffing up his own ego. His own sense of self had poisoned his perspective to the point that he didn’t even have a shred of real gratitude left in him.

Most of us, of course, aren’t that depraved or selfish. We don’t use our blessings to bloat our sense of self-worth. However, just because we aren’t as extreme as Haman doesn’t mean that we always have pure motivations in pondering our blessings.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that I live in a wonderful home with hot, running water and live only minutes from several well-stocked groceries stores. I’m thankful for His abundance, but I don’t want my comfort to be the ultimate source of my gratitude. I want my knowledge of God to prompt awe and love and gratefulness because I know Him and who He is brings me to my knees with heart overflowing with gratitude. Then all the blessings in the world will become more and more beautiful and my heart will become more and more aligned with Him.

 


God Is for Our Ultimate Good

Limitations for Our Good

When we are seeking the Lord’s guidance in our life, we are often only looking for open doors. “Tell me where to go.” “Tell me what to do.” A question we ask less often is, “What doors are closed?” Often, even if we get an answer that a door is closed, we fight it or feel like we haven’t heard right.

Accepting the limitations that God puts on our choices is an important part of walking with Him. The world says, “Make a plan and make it happen.” God says, “Do what I say, when I say to do it.” Apostle Paul demonstrates this in his journey and how he handled ministering in Asia.

In chapter 19 of Acts, we learn that Paul spent two years in Asia and it says, “all the residents of Asia heard the words of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” Sounds great and wonderful, but if we look back three chapters, we see that Paul didn’t just get this handed to him.

In Acts 16:6, it says, “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Paul accepted that limitation and moved on. He continued following the leading of the Lord even when it contained a limitation. Then, after Paul’s continued obedience, the door that had been forbidden to him was opened.

There are areas in my life where right now I have limitations, things that the Lord has asked me to let go of or hold back from. Many, many times I want to fight Him about it. I have many arguments against it, but the usual one is something along the lines of “Everyone else can!” Not the most mature response, I know, but it seems unfair and I don’t understand.

God is so good, though, that I’m learning to trust the limitations and accept limitations or withholdings. Not because I think that the point is to do without, I don’t think that at all. My personal opinion is that God doesn’t ask you do without something just to see if you can or if you’re willing to. It always has a purpose in transforming you.

So far my experience is that God’s withholding something I want or asking me to not do something is for several reasons. One, protection. God knows how to give good gifts to His children (Luke 11:13), and He also knows what won’t be a good gift. Two, transformation. There are times when getting what I want would block him because I’d turn to something other than Him. By letting Him withhold or limit me, I can choose to be transformed more and more as I lean on Him and wait. Three, focus. There are things in our life that we put above God and rely on more than we rely on Him. God wants us all to Himself and will do what it takes to bring us an awareness of what’s more important to us than Him. (Exodus 34:14).

As we walk with Him, let us accept all things from him, both the gifts and the limitations. He is always after our ultimate good (Romans 8:29).