The Difference Between Saying "Thanks" and Being Grateful, Part 3

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In part 2, we discussed the need to focus on the tangible things that we do have instead of on what we do not, in order to help develop a more grateful heart. But there is one more suggestion on what our focus should center in on.

Two, focus on the intangible things that we do have instead of fixating on the tangibles we do not have.

Those of us who lack material goods could whine, "Well, I cannot be grateful for tangible blessings since I have so few."

We have good news on this front. The Bible declares a set of truths that ought to refresh all of us and engender gratefulness.

  • James 2:5—"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"

  • 2 Corinthians 6:10—"as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things."

  • Revelation 2:9—"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)."

  • 1 Corinthians 3:21-23—“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether . . . things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God."

  • Luke 12:21 —"So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

  • Proverbs 16:16—“How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.”

Bottom line, the intangible of faith in God enables those who are poor—having little in what the world tangibly offers—to possess all the riches God offers. Apparently the poor have the potential of depending on God in the way the rich do not. They become rich in faith in God's eyes. Their dependency pleases God and He responds to them.

Though poorer we can be grateful and thankful. For example, a school teacher at a Christian school in the inner city is just a dollar above poverty in terms of income. However, this tougher circumstance affords her the opportunity to keep her faith in God strong in a way that the rich do not. The rich do not have testimonies like, "I needed twenty dollars more this week for groceries because I invited a single mother with her two kids over for dinner. Well, my great aunt, who I have not heard from in eight years, sent a check for twenty dollars to use in whatever way I wished." The rich do not have their financial back up against the wall. They are not petitioning God like this. In fact, they aren't asking God for much at all. The poor have ample moments to encounter the hand of God.

How sad when a poorer person overlooks the opportunity to touch the heart of Christ to be touched by him.

Having said this, the rich should and can be rich in faith toward God. Jesus expected this. Those with resources can make a decision to trust God. I recently talked with a man who owns a major corporation and decided to give half the profits to the cause of Christ. The company jumped from 8 percent to 16 percent profits. How remarkable! Everyone who hears this is stunned, and all the more when they discover that 8 percent is $500,000,000. He gladly gave that 8 percent to ministries while maintaining his normal profits. Clearly, God heard his prayer as an ungreedy rich man seeking to depend on the Lord. It was as though God said, "Since you are exercising this kind of faith, I will not take from you the normal 8 percent profit you make. Instead, I will double your profits." This rich man is grateful.

There is a biblical truth found in Proverbs 11:25: "The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered." Jesus said, "Give and it shall be given."

Are there places you can step out in faith to see the hand of God in your life? Is there any greater intangible?! Years ago when another pastor and I started a counseling ministry, called the Open Door, where we did not charge for counseling nor solicit money from the business community, nor make our needs known, word got out that we were conducting this ministry to help others. One couple had a soda machine at the local school that never made any money. The wife said, "Lord, I want to give to this ministry all the profits from this soda machine." Stunningly, that machine started to make money. Each month she'd bring in a bag packed with small coins from all the sales from that Coke machine that up to then had made no money. Her faith not only refreshed us, she was refreshed. When people give something like this to God with no intention of touching the gold or glory, God has a way of honoring.

To this point the stories about being rich in faith toward God end up being stories about materialistic blessings. So, let's look more closely at another dimension. There is another reality about the intangibles. LifeWay Research did a survey and found out, “The blessings that matter most are the ones money can’t buy.” (Read more here)

They reported, "Most Americans are thankful for family (88 percent), health (77 percent), personal freedom (72 percent) and friends (71 percent). Fewer give thanks for wealth (32 percent) or achievements (51 percent)."

What is also fascinating is that older folks differ a bit from the younger. "Those 65 and older are more thankful for family (92 percent) . . . than fun experiences (48 percent). Those under 25 are thankful for fun experiences (70 percent) . . . but still cherish family (77 percent)." As we get older the importance of family rises to the top in importance, and fun dims in value.

Those of us with meaningful family relationships need to see we have what most consider the greatest of values. Consequently, if we are going through some tough times financially, keep this intangible blessings of family front and center. We must not lose sight of what money cannot buy, and which the rich envy.

I share at our marriage conference a story of the woman who married a rich man and lived in luxury. She would sometimes visit her sister who lived in a 1,200-square-foot home with her husband and three kids. After visiting, she'd drive away in her Mercedes with all of her diamonds only to pull the car over several blocks away and sob and sob. You see, her sister had a great marriage and wonderful children. This wealthy woman had neither. Intangibles trump the tangibles.

We must also remember this world is not the end. Jesus said that He goes to prepare a place for us, and if that were not so He would have told us. To one of the thieves on the cross he said, "This day you will be with Me in Paradise."

We can be grateful that we know God and will spend eternity with him.

Sadly though, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:21, "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks." We, however, can live a different way. Certainly the Pilgrims, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln did.

In 1621 Americans first celebrated thanksgiving toward God. The Pilgrims at the Plymouth Plantation held a celebration at the end of their first harvest. Later, in 1789, President George Washington had a thanksgiving day to honor “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” To George Washington this was the God of the Old and New Testament.

In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln established the fourth Thursday of November as a federal holiday. Lincoln too credited God for our national blessings. “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” For Lincoln, this too is the God of the Bible. (Read more here)

In conclusion, one thing is for sure. Like with the boy given ice cream and cake the parents cannot coerce a grateful spirit. So too with us. All the blessings that God gives to us—both tangible and intangible—He will not coerce gratefulness even though we parrot "thank you." Then again, some of us can make a decision to genuinely sing, "Give thanks (with a grateful heart)."

-Dr. E

Discussion Questions

  1. Emerson wrote, “The poor have the potential of depending on God in the way the rich do not.” What does this mean? Do you agree or disagree? How have you seen that played out in your life or in the life of someone else?

  2. Do you agree with the LifeWay article that reported, “The blessings that matter most are the ones money can’t buy”? Why is it so difficult at times to remember this truth and to be grateful for all the intangibles that we have?

  3. How does it help to remember that this world is not the end? How can that help you to be more grateful for the intangibles in your life?

  4. What tangibles and intangibles are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?