If ever there were a light and fluffy teaching in Scripture, surely it is the teaching on gratitude. I heard someone at church say the other day that they didn’t think we should have a Thanksgiving Day because she thought it ought to be Thanksgiving Day all year long. How sweet.
When we think soberly about what the Bible says about gratitude, we soon realize it is not a light and fluffy doctrine. It is one of the most difficult commands in the entire Bible. Consider these verses:
Give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)
Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.
Ephesians 5:20 (NIV)
When the cancer comes back, give thanks.
When they go through with the divorce, give thanks.
When the kid breaks your heart, give thanks.
When you have seaweed wrapped around your head, give thanks.
Jonah is perhaps our best story of giving thanks when giving thanks is hard. I learned the story of Jonah via flannel graph. They showed me a picture of Jonah that looked something like this one:
There is Jonah in the belly of the great fish: He has a fire going. There is barbeque. What an adventure! This picture gets a little closer, but, how did he keep that match dry? And where is the seaweed?
In Jonah 2.5 we read, “I sank beneath the waves, and death was very near. The waters closed above me; the seaweed wrapped itself around my head.” (TLB)
Have you ever been thrown up on? Perhaps at a drunken party or perhaps when one of your children was sick—have you ever had fresh vomit all over you?
I can’t honestly say I know what the inside of a fish smells like. I don’t know whether it smells better or worse than human vomit. Some fishermen may know. I know the outside of a fish doesn’t smell all that great. Anyone who has strolled by a fishing pier knows that.
What I know is that swimming in the half digested inside of a fish with seaweed all around you must have been an awful experience. It is hard to imagine. No matches. No barbeque. No campfire. No burgers. No marshmallows. Just seaweed and whatever else is in a fish’s belly.
It is here that we read one of the most astounding declarations of thanks in the entire Bible. “For how can I thank you enough for all you have done?” Jonah 2:9 (TLB)
How can we learn to be more like Jonah? He is a living embodiment of the fact that Paul’s words are possible: “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Ephesians 5.20