Healthy Christians are people of gratitude and generosity. That is a clear biblical truth that has been lived out across the years in church history. If the gospel has not penetrated a person’s heart to the point that they are profoundly grateful, then a key ingredient in salvation is missing. Zaccaheus is more than the subject of a cute children’s song, he is the personification of what happens when Jesus takes up residence in one’s heart. Old self-centered habits are replaced with a generous spirit whose gratitude is manifest in visible and life-changing ways. 

Every November, Thanksgiving serves to remind us that we have the ability to live out a grateful and generous lifestyle year-round. Many of us come away from the Thanksgiving experience determined to be more thankful and more generous in the days ahead. Too often, that resolve is quickly forgotten in the rush and stress of our hectic lives. Other times, it is overwhelmed by the harsh reality of difficult circumstances in our life that evoke anything but gratitude from us. 

I remember one bewildered church member sharing with me his frustration with the expectation from scripture to be thankful for all things. He had experienced quite a few heartbreaks, and was wondering how God could possible expect him to maintain a grateful heart in the midst of his travails. I encouraged him to go back and re-examine the biblical text and see exactly what it said. I suggested he start with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Our next conversation centered around the monumental difference between being thankful FOR all things and being thankful IN all things. Somewhere along the line, he said, he had been led to believe that the proper Christian response to difficulties in life was an extra measure of gratitude for the obstacle placed in one’s path. As he recounted, such an attitude was proving impossible to hold. Instead, as the scripture clearly suggested, our gratitude is in the midst of whatever life brings, but may not necessarily be for the event itself. It was a breakthrough insight for him, and years later he continues to remind me of the day he learned to be grateful IN, not FOR, all things in his life experience. 

Such insight may well be the secret to maintaining a thankful heart beyond the holiday devoted to giving thanks. An attitude of gratitude that focuses on the provisions and goodness of God, even in the midst of hardship, is what scripture teaches. A deep trust that God is at work in all things for good can inspire us to remain grateful in the midst of economic downturns, tragedies, illnesses, and even in the face of death. Inevitably, that mature understanding of God’s providence and our pervasive gratitude produces a deep humility in us. As John Claypool relentlessly reminded us: “All of life is a gift”. A life built upon humble gratitude every day of the year is a life well-lived. 

As I write this, former President Jimmy Carter is battling significant health issues. His life of humble service lived out in a spirit of thankfulness is an inspiration to all of us who crave examples of such integrity. Carter’s faith fuels a profound stewardship of the privilege and opportunities that have come his way. He models for us what faith looks like when it is put into practice and lived out in deeds and not just in words. 

Congregations can cultivate such a healthy, mature faith by telling the stories over and over of how God provides what we need when we need it. Your story of God’s providence in your life encourages me to believe that such a thing might actually happen to me. We can remind one another that with God, there is always enough of everything. Abundance, not scarcity, is God’s trademark. Much like the fish and the loaves, he supplies what we need in ways that mystify and inspire us. 

I am increasingly convinced that whenever I find a church or person doing great things for the kingdom, there is inevitably an underlying spirit of gratitude, generosity and humility to be found. Conversely, troubled people and churches are marked by egotism, greed and narcissism. 

I hope you will be able to exhibit an attitude of gratitude in the year to come. I hope you are part of a group of people who do the same. If not, why not be the one who turns the tide toward this foundational spiritual trait? 

Bill Wilson
Dr. William “Bill” Wilson founded The Center for Healthy Churches in January of 2014. This followed his service as President of the Center for Congregational Health at Wake Forest Baptist Health since 2009. Previously he was Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dalton, Georgia, where he served since 2003. He brings over 33 years of local church ministry experience to CHC, having served as pastor in two churches in Virginia (Farmville BC and FBC Waynesboro) and on a church staff in South Carolina. Bill has led each of the churches he has served into a time of significant growth and expansion of ministry. He is the director of CHC.