Gratitude has a lot to do with seeing the cup half full. It was true for Jonah. As bad as things were—and they were pretty bad—there were still some things to be grateful for. For one thing, Jonah was still alive. This had to look questionable a few minutes before. There is nothing like a tragedy to focus your attention on what is right with your life.
I am very grateful today to be alive. Most days I don’t think too much about it. Today, it is very much on my mind.
As I was driving my step-son to school today, we were delayed by an accident. The paper reports that an SUV crossed the center line and smashed into a sedan. There was a dip in the median and the SUV came so fast it went up into the air and landed on the sedan. We saw the vehicle. It did not look pretty. Both passengers were killed instantly. It was a mom taking her son to school—the same school we were heading to. One minute they were minding their own business cruising down the road. The next moment a SUV was barreling toward them. The next moment they were dead. Had we gotten off on time this morning instead of five minutes late, it could have been us. I am grateful today to be alive.
Life is a complicated mix of good and bad. We tend to concentrate on the bad. It is good, to some degree, to pay attention to problems. I think God has given us an improvement instinct. We tend to notice what is wrong with the world and how it could be better. This is a good thing. The world would never get better if we were not this way. But it goes too far. We think too much about the bad.
We would do well to make a daily list of all the things that are right with the world. I often do this before I go to sleep at night. I often make a list of twenty good things before I fall asleep. I have broken them down into four categories—one for each finger and one for each toe. For me, it breaks down like this:
- Five people in my family that I am grateful for. This is easy for me. I have three kids, two steps kids and two daughters-in-law. I have a wife who loves me. I have parents who are still living and healthy. They came to see me last week, along with two sisters. I have a brother and. . . you get the picture. I thank God for five family members every day.
- I thank God for five other people every day—friends that enrich my life.
- I thank God for five spiritual blessings—the Bible, the Holy Spirit, God’s purpose for my life, the forgiveness of sins, the church, the hope of eternal life. . . the riches that are ours in Christ.
- I thank God for five physical things. A house. A car. A laptop. Warm water. Indoor plumbing. A soft bed. I often think of the softness of the bed. When is the last time you thanked God for the softness of the bed?
Without some plan for focusing our attention on the good in life, we tend to see the glass as half empty instead of half full. I love this story.
Guy #1 goes to Africa to sell shoes. He writes back to headquarters: Situation is hopeless. I will be coming home. No one here wears shoes.
Guy #2 goes to Africa to sell shoes. He ends up in the same village in the same country. He writes home to headquarters: double the shipment of shoes; possibilities endless. No one here has shoes.
Why not stop and make a list of 20 things you are grateful for?
- 5 family members
- 5 friends
- 5 spiritual blessings
- 5 physical blessings
Romans 8:28 is still true
No matter how bad things get, God is still in control. One of my favorite verses is Revelation 4:2 (NIV) “And there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.”
Not wringing his hands. Not pacing the floor. Sitting. Large and in charge. In control. Working out Romans 8:28. Making every day a Romans 8.28 day.
Want to see a great example of the truth of Romans 8:28? Look at the life of Joseph. He was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, thrown in jail, and became the savior of his family. God was working out his plan.
I have often felt that way about my life. I was a Minister of Education for eleven years. My job satisfaction was about a five on a scale of one to ten. There were parts of it I loved and parts I hated. It was during this era I started writing Bible study lessons called Good Questions Have Groups Talking. I wrote my first book during this era. This was the part I liked. I was also asked to do my first training conference during this era. I liked that part too. All the rest I didn’t like so well.
A few years later I was doing conferences full-time. I have logged two million miles on American Airlines alone. I liked speaking, but I was about half bored. My in-laws’ church needed a pastor and they called me. It would have been the last place I would ever have considered. But God was working out his plan. It is a really country situation and I have never considered myself a country boy. But it has worked out well. I get to preach every week and because the church is so small, there is not much else that needs to be done. God was working out his plan.
God is always working out his plan. Through twists and turns and setbacks and heartaches and detours and roadblocks, God is working out his plan.
I love this story:
The story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, “This is good!”
One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off. Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual,
“This is good!”
To which the king replied, “No, this is not good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail.
About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake.
As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.
As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend.
“You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. “And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.”
“No,” his friend replied, “This is good!”
“What do you mean, ’This is good’? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?”
“If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you.”
God is working out his plan. We serve a Romans 8.28 God.
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