Passing Glimpses at Eternal Gratitude

Many Christians can tell you precisely when, where, and under what circumstances they gave their life to the Lord. “I accepted Jesus Christ at a Campus Crusade rally in October of 1976,” or “My husband and I both became Christians after our eldest son witnessed to us in 1994,” or something along those lines. I suspect we all know people with life stories similar in character (if not in exact detail). Learning about the dawn of faith in the life of any individual believer is one of those time-honored traditions that never seems to get old; what could be more exciting, after all, than to find out how God has been at work in someone else’s life? It’s almost the Christian equivalent of saying “Hello” for the first time.

Although I, too, can point to an exact date when God powerfully intervened in my life, I would be somewhat less able to say for certain when I first realized that I was actually excited to be counted, along with Paul and James, among the bondservants of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1). I can tell you, with complete confidence, that powerful, physical cravings for daily regimens of alcohol and drugs simply “vanished” after a desperate prayer for help, muttered under my breath, to a God I did not know, on an early-evening flight from San Francisco to Kansas City on July 23, 1997…but how that miraculous event ultimately led me to the Person and work of Christ is still something of a mystery, even to me.

While I think my history of godless living prior to July of 1997 makes me even more keenly aware of my own unworthiness, I recognize the truth that not one of us will ever live a life worthy of eternal fellowship with God (Romans 3:9-20). I have to wonder, then, how often any of us pause to consider how very incredibly unlikely it is that God would actually want to be in relationship with any of us, and how beyond-measure-grateful we should be for the gracious reality of His love?

As we head into Thanksgiving, it’s considered appropriate to slow down a bit and take time to recall all the blessings we enjoy and, naturally, I would affirm that it is both fitting and proper to do so. This year, though, I’ve had even more reason to recall many of the Lord’s blessings in my life, somewhat ahead of the “normal” Thanksgiving season of rehearsed gratitude.

Just the other night, for example, I was lying down in my bedroom when I distinctly heard my four-year-old son singing the doxology to his mother as part of his nightly bedtime routine. All of the obvious blessings contained in that moment began to fold in on top of one another until it almost became more than I could bear. I suppose it was just a momentary flash of insight for me, but as I began to count up the odds stacked against my ever hearing a son of mine sing God’s praises to my wife…well, it nearly crushed me. At that particular moment, I happened to be in a fair amount of physical pain, truth be told, but all of those secondary concerns were washed away in the time it took for him to sing aloud:

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him, all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

This was not some rote recitation, either…our boy was clearly not going to be denied his chance to boldly sing the doxology all by himself. As I lay there in the dark, this unspeakably rich blessing flowing over my soul, it occurred to me that my own, ongoing sense of thankfulness toward God is hopelessly pathetic.

Given the life that I was leading up until that amazing day in July of 1997, the odds against my ever hearing the soft beauty of a small child’s voice praising his Maker while my wife lovingly tucked him into bed are beyond incalculable. The millions upon millions of contingencies that had to be carefully managed by a loving and sovereign God to bring that moment to life are quite simply beyond anyone’s ability to fathom. (And as if that’s not enough, the kid has memorized some pretty awesome theology to boot!)

How quickly those moments of deep, deep gratitude tend to fade! How soon our attention is diverted away to the crushing, often-trivial demands of the day. And how inexplicably slow we oftentimes can be to share those moments with another. In a world consumed with fear and uncertainty, why do we not instinctively rush to share these moments of God’s grace with others, store them up in our hearts and give thanks for yet another totally-unmerited blessing? Perhaps my own unimpressive recordkeeping is unique, but I confess that my ability to “warehouse the graces of God” in my life is, at best, scattershot. I wish I were better at recognizing, and then sharing, and then remembering, the over-the-top abundance of God’s mercies in my life.

We Americans typically spend Thanksgiving Day looking around at our own little worlds and thanking God for the people and comforts He has mercifully brought into our lives. While that is a great way to begin, Christians, I believe, enter into the year-end holiday season with the added advantage of knowing Whom we should be thankful to…and why. So I guess I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to look beyond the physical/material blessings and be reminded of the Person Who provided them all (John 1:1-3), Who made peace with God on our behalf (Romans 5:1-2) and Who – for whatever reason – assures us that He will be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:16-20). We can have no way to know what our gratitude to Christ will look like in the Age to Come, but we can certainly be thankful for the small glimpses we get every now and then.

So it seems as though a true sense of gratitude and thankfulness arrived a bit early and unexpectedly for me this year. I say “unexpected” simply because my day-to-day life is as messy and hectic as most folks, I’d be willing to wager, and there is plenty to worry about, given half a chance. Now that I am the head of a blended family, with all of the unique issues that come with that, there really is no shortage of days when it can begin to feel like my problems are having puppies: “Is my job really secure?” “Will my health hold out long enough to raise my four-year-old…or will I perhaps live ‘too long’ and somehow become a burden to my children?” It’s actually quite tragic how these thoughts – and many more just like them – can pervade our thinking and divert our attention so easily, yet how much more satisfying to trust in the Lord with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5-6) and spend just a few minutes taking in the breathtaking display of undeserved grace represented by a child’s song floating in from the next bedroom over?

Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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