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The Secret to Being Overwhelmingly Grateful

I am wary of any book or chapter of a book that begins with the words “The Secret to. . . . ” Our world today is always looking for a quick fix, a silver bullet, an easy solution to all its problems. We would love to know the secret to six-pack abs or financial security.

This chapter is not a silver bullet. It’s not a pill that will make your body fat melt away or all your problems disappear. There is no secret to being overwhelmingly grateful. I’m not about to reveal a great and profound mystery. The secret to being overwhelmingly grateful is simply to open your eyes.

The secret to being overwhelmingly grateful is to recognize what you have

Everything was new. The earth still had that new car smell. God had just finished his wondrous work of creation. Color and life were everywhere. Dinosaurs roamed the earth. Animals lived in perfect harmony with one another. The air was fresh and clean. It was paradise.

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. He placed man in that perfect paradise and said to him, “This is my gift to you.” But something was missing.  God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Man wasn’t complete, so God decided to create for him a helper, a companion.

Before he did, however, God had all the animals come to Adam. He told Adam to give them names. The dogs he called dogs. The cats he called cats. The platypuses he called platypuses.

Have you ever wondered why God did that? He was about to make a companion for Adam, but first he had the man name  all the animals. Why would he do that?

The book of Genesis tells us that when Adam was done naming the animals, he came to a realization. All the dogs had other dogs. All the cats had other cats. All the platypuses had other platypuses. But for Adam, no suitable companion was found.

That’s when God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam’s ribs and from it formed the woman. When Adam woke up, he was overwhelmed with appreciation for this companion God had given him. That is when Adam composed the first love poem: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).

It doesn’t sound very romantic, does it? But think about it. Adam was saying, “She is a part of me. She completes me.”

Adam was overwhelmingly grateful for Eve, in part because God had first let him see that he was missing something. Have you ever noticed how much more we appreciate things when we have to live without them for a while?

As sinful human beings, we tend to take God’s blessings for granted. We often don’t notice the amazing gift of air conditioning until it breaks down in the middle of summer. We aren’t aware of how much we depend on electricity until  the power goes out and we stare at one another, wondering what to do without our TVs, cell phones, and computers.

A wise, old pastor once told me, “The secret to happiness is not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” We spend so much time focusing on what we don’t have, on what other people have, on what we want to have, that we lose sight of what we do have.

The secret to being overwhelmingly grateful is to recognize what you have.

That is the simple premise of this book. By writing down a different blessing each day for which you are thankful, you will recognize what you have.

And we have so much. One of the biggest obstacles to overwhelming gratitude is the overwhelming wealth of our country. We  see our neighbor’s big house and fancy car. We see movie stars and million dollar athletes living extravagant lives. We begin to think we are poor, or at least that we aren’t rich.

According to the online calculator entitled Global Rich List, if your household earned more than $52,000 in the year 2012, you are richer than 97 percent of the world. That means nearly seven billion people in the world are poorer than you. If you earn just half that, $26,000, you are still richer than 90 percent of the world. Even the poorest Americans are among the richest people in the world.

Look at what we have. We have homes with air conditioning and central heating. We have comfortable beds and flat screen TVs. In fact, many of us have more TVs in our homes than  we have people. Because we have so much stuff, one of our biggest problems is finding where to put it all. We complain because our closets are too small. We buy bigger refrigerators. We spend hundreds of dollars a year to rent storage space.

Even if God doesn’t give you all those material possessions, you are still rich because you have a home waiting for you in the mansions of heaven, where the streets are paved with gold. You are rich because your Savior, Jesus, became poor for you.

Two thousand years ago, the all-powerful King of the universe left behind the riches and glory of heaven to be born in a manure-smelling barn. He left behind the glory, the comfort, the perfection of heaven to become one of us. He came to be our substitute, to suffer and to die in our place. On the cross, God himself suffered the punishment we deserve for all our ingratitude and selfishness, for all our worry and doubt, for every bad thing we have ever done. Because he did, we are forgiven. God is not going to punish you because he punished Jesus in your  place. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved. That is God’s promise, and God doesn’t lie.

You are forgiven. You have heaven. Therefore, you are rich. Even if you were living in the rubble of war-torn Afghanistan or sleeping on a dirt floor in a straw hut in Africa, you would still be rich because you have heaven. There is no such thing as a poor Christian.

Did you get that? Because that’s important. There is no such thing as a poor Christian. You are not, nor will you ever be, poor. You are a son or daughter of the King of the universe. You are forgiven and loved by God. You have a place waiting for you in the riches of heaven.

The secret to being overwhelmingly grateful is to recognize what you have. Writing down a different blessing each day forces you to recognize  all the many and diverse blessings God has given you. Instead of just being thankful, you will be thankful for your cat, Fluffy; for the sound of your children breathing as they sleep; and for God’s amazing forgiveness, which washed away that terrible thing you said to your spouse.

As we see more clearly the many and diverse blessings that God showers upon us, we will be overwhelmed. We will join the Samaritan who fell at Jesus’ feet and Zacchaeus, who gave  away half of all he had, and Adam, who truly treasured his wife. We will be overwhelmingly grateful.

The secret to being overwhelmingly grateful is to recognize you don’t deserve any of it. The crowds bustled in the temple courts. The sounds of bleating sheep and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. In the middle of the crowd, a Pharisee stood up. The Pharisees were highly respected by the people. They lived such outwardly holy lives. They were “better” than everyone else. The Pharisee lifted his arms to heaven and prayed in a loud voice for all to hear, “God, I thank you that I am better than everyone else. I fast twice a week even though you only command us to fast once a year. I give a tenth of all I have in my offerings, instead of just a tenth of what I earn like everyone  else” (paraphrased from Luke chapter 18).

Meanwhile, another man, a tax collector like Zacchaeus, stood in a corner where no one could see him. He bowed his head and beat his breast. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” he prayed with a heavy heart. The Pharisee thought he could earn God’s love. The tax collector recognized he didn’t deserve to be forgiven. Of the two, Jesus tells us that the tax collector was the one who went home justified before God.

When I was a boy, McDonald’s ran a series of commercials with a simple message: “You deserve a break today.” Advertisers love to stroke our egos. “You deserve the best,” they tell us. “You deserve a new car. You deserve a large-screen TV. You deserve our product.” We like to hear that. Just like the  Pharisee in Jesus’ story, we like to think we have earned what we have. We deserve it. In fact, we think we deserve much more. We work hard. We are good people. We deserve a break today.

Honestly, there is only one thing we deserve: God’s punishment. The only thing we have earned with our lives is an eternity in hell. We are terrible sinners who do terrible things. If it were left to us, our homes, our lives, and our families would be in ruins.

Dr. Dwight L. Moody was a famous Christian preacher, writer, and professor from the 19th century. The story is told how one day Dr. Moody was returning from classes with a student. As they walked through the busy city streets of Chicago, they came upon a drunk passed out on the sidewalk in a pool of his own vomit. The student, trying to impress his professor, asked, “How could a person stoop so low?” Dr. Moody looked thoughtfully at his young student and said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Like the tax collector in Jesus’ story,  Dr. Moody realized that everything good in his life was a gift of God’s grace. If left up to him, Dr. Moody realized he could have been that drunk lying in a pool of his own vomit. The only reason he had become anything was by God’s grace.

Grace. We hear that word all the time. What is grace? Grace is undeserved love. Grace is the mother of a murdered son hugging his murderer at the trial. Grace is the bullied child in school standing up for the boy who hurt him. Simply put, grace is loving the unlovable. Grace is God loving you. Everything we have and everything we are is a gift of God’s grace.

The only thing we deserve from God is the fire of hell. Yet, he gives us house and home, friends and family, food and clothing, and everything we need for our body and life. Through Jesus, he forgives our dumb and dirty deeds. He  gives us a home in heaven. We don’t deserve any of it. The secret to being overwhelmingly grateful is to recognize all that God has given us and to recognize that we don’t deserve any of it.

From 364 Days of Thanksgiving, by Andrew C. Schroer. © 2015 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.