I’ve been thinking about the issue of giving thanks to God recently. There’s a phrase in Colossians 2:7 that’s lodged in my mind: “abounding in thanksgiving.” Wouldn’t you like that to be a description of your life? “He was always giving thanks to God.” “She always seemed so thankful to God.” Too often – in fact, I would say it’s the majority of the time in my life – I lack a grateful heart for sinful reasons. They’re easy to name, hard to root out: I’m self-focused. I make “needs” out of things I was never meant to need. I lose sight of how desperate my state should be apart from Christ.
But there’s another reason it’s hard to abound in thanksgiving. Sometimes there are days when things genuinely go wrong. Our present world is not a finely-tuned engine running perfectly; things are horribly out of alignment. Death, sickness, others’ sins against us all exist because this world is not the way it is supposed to be. Sin has ravaged the very fabric of our world, and none of us escape that reality.
So what are we to do? Can we abound in thanksgiving when a family member is diagnosed with terminal cancer, when we lose the job that keeps food on the table for a growing family, when we see friends we dearly love stubbornly close their hearts to the gospel that we know is their only hope? Can we be truly grateful while living in the midst of a broken world?
The answer is yes, but not perhaps in the way we often think. Often our counsel to people experiencing genuine brokenness, and our response when we’re in those circumstances, is too trite and deeply unbiblical. If we boil it down, the essence is, “It could be worse, okay? Just find something to be grateful for and quit whining.” But Scripture never glosses over the ugliness that is this our fallen world. To attempt to be thankful in a superficial or shallow way when confronted with genuine brokenness is to fight against the echoes of Eden in our soul which shout, “This is not the way it was meant it be!” How then do we maintain grateful hearts while living in a broken world?
The answer is this: we must remember we are only temporary residents in this broken world. To be a Christian is to be a pilgrim in this world but a citizen in the next. On days and in seasons (perhaps very lengthy seasons) where our lives are profoundly affected by the brokenness of this world, we can give thanks for a coming day when all shall be well. Things now are disturbingly, sometimes crushingly, out of order. God does not call us to pretend that such trials are anything but heartbreaking and agonizing. Instead He weeps with us while promising that one day His own hand will wipe away the last tear our eyes will ever shed. That future hope is the source our present gratitude. We do not belong here! And in this vale of tears, the vision of that eternal city with God is what sustains our weary yet grateful hearts.
Philippians 3:20-21: But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.