Summary: If you are going to live a life of gratitude, you must believe with all your heart that 1. God is good. 2. Life is good. 3. There will be a day of resotration.
I often wonder why we who live in the United States of America, and have life so good, seem to be so discontent at the same time. How can we have so much of this life’s goods and pleasures, freedoms and privileges, resources and comforts, yet be so miserable? Perhaps we have too much. Bling bling is the thing. I am often overwhelmed by the choices I have in a store. I don’t just have peanut butter available to me, I have smooth peanut butter, chunky peanut butter, extra-chunky peanut butter, processed or natural peanut butter, peanut butter with jelly already in it so I don’t have to open another jar, Jiff Peanut Butter, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Smucker’s Peanut Butter and a hundred more brands and subtle flavors — plus the jars come in several sizes or a 5 pound bucket. I can buy peanut butter in the middle of a chocolate cup, or peanut butter in candy shells. I can get peanut butter in cookies or pies. I typed in “peanut butter” on a Google search and got 8,500,00 hits. So many choices, so many privileges, so much abundance, and so much unhappiness. It has to point to the core problems in American culture: We are out of touch with God, out of touch with life, and we live only for the present with no hope of eternity.
We keep wanting this life to bring us satisfaction in itself. We keep wanting it all and wanting it now. We want to believe in God without having a relationship with God, or being accountable to God and responsible for our behavior. We keep wanting this world to be perfect, fulfill us and make us happy. We keep wanting this world to be heaven without the hope of the real heaven. No wonder we are in a spiral of misery. Meanwhile the advertisements grind on, promising us that we will attract the opposite sex if we only have the right car or clothes. We will find fulfillment by buying the latest, greatest thing they are offering. Life will be good for me if only I can get the new Razr phone with Bluetooth wireless technology and built-in camera, video cam, internet capability, remote headset, iTunes, etc. I am sure life would improve for me if I could afford a Wi-Fi PDA or the latest ipod. The newest diet will solve our problems with self-esteem. Maybe we will win the lottery, or one of the financial gurus on television will help us get rich and our lives will improve exponentially. More education will get us further and a better career. We are in a spin cycle of false hope and unhappiness, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out.
There is a way out, but the problem is you have to give up your false hopes in order to find real hope. Walk the Line is the new film that opened this week on the life of Johnny Cash. Near the beginning of the film a twelve-year-old Johnny Cash is talking with his older brother Jack, whom he greatly admires. Johnny asks how Jack is able to remember so many of the stories in the Bible. Jack, who wants to be a preacher, says, “You can’t help people unless you can tell ‘em the right stories.” True it is. This culture is telling us all the wrong stories that lead us to false hope, dysfunction and despair. The Bible is telling us the right stories that led us to life and peace.
One of the stories the Bible tells us is the necessity of gratitude, if life is going to be meaningful. We read of Job being tempted to curse God and give up because of the suffering in his life, but he is a man who continues to trust God with his life and his future. That is radical gratitude. We read about King David who, faced with a mountain of problems in trying to lead his nation, continues to look to God and writes a whole book of songs praising God. We read about Paul being persecuted, beaten, jailed and left for dead who could say: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). In spite of all his difficulties, he could say, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
There are three simple messages I believe the Bible is telling us about life that come from the Psalm we have read together today. The first is: You cannot be grateful until you believe with all your heart that God is good. The Psalmist wrote: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5). You can’t have a grateful heart and think of God as a cosmic sadist. You cannot have a grateful heart and think of God as the cosmic sadist. The starting place of gratitude is believing God is good. If you don’t believe that, then life will be chaotic and confused. It will seem hopelessly evil and out of control. At the center of our faith is the belief that there is a Person at the heart of the universe who loves the world and loves us. It is our belief that he is in control, and that helps us stay in control. It is in trusting in his heart that we are calmed in the calamities of life. It is in believing that he has our best in mind that we walk with quiet assurance through life. Pity those who scoff at the idea of God and believe that there is no Creator, no Designer of life, no Author of history, no purpose to any of this. Life would seem horribly depressing, directionless and futile.