…He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him…—Acts 17:25-27
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.—James 1:17
I have a good friend from high school who no longer believes in God. We spent several happy years in youth group and church together, but he now says that he never believed any of the spiritual stuff and was just there for the friends and the fun. He believes people are the product of evolution and chance, and that the world would be better off without religion of any kind.
Once, though, he let his guard down and admitted something I have never forgotten. We were talking about spiritual things, how he thinks people like me are deceived and churches are just after people’s money. He had a really rough childhood, and I think his anger at God for allowing certain things to happen to him when he was younger is the real reason he has rejected faith. He came up in the foster care system, didn’t make the best choices after high school, and was on a path to nowhere good. But then things turned around. He grew up a little, started working hard, met a nice girl, and today has a beautiful little family and a good steady job. It’s way more than he ever expected for himself. And this is what he admitted to me. He said: “Sometimes when I lie down at night and I think about how good my life is, it feels like more than I deserve, and I just wish there were someone I could thank for all of it.”
Someone to thank. If we turn our backs on God because of the hard things in this life, we are left with no explanation for all the beautiful things, and to a certain extent we are robbed of our ability to enjoy them. Right around the time of that conversation, it just so happened that one of my favorite Christian songwriters, Andrew Peterson, had recently released a song called “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone?” It talks about the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, of birdsongs and thunderstorms and babies’ laughter, and asks over and over “Don’t you want to thank someone for this?” If there’s no one to thank, what do we do with all the goodness in the world?
I’ve been thinking about my friend’s comment as our family celebrates the 4th of July this week. The 4th of July is a secular holiday. It’s not about Jesus, and it’s not just for Christians. It’s a national holiday, celebrating the freedom and independence we enjoy in the United States America. It’s one of my favorite holidays, actually, because I love summer evenings and fireworks and cheeseburgers. But on the 4th of July, there are two types of people enjoying the day. There are people who are celebrating this great country we live in, and there are people thanking God for this great country we live in.
The difference is huge. If you say there’s no God, then you have to say that good things in life come to us because of “luck,” whatever that is, or you end up giving glory to some lesser thing that doesn’t deserve it. You worship your country, or your money, or your health, or you worship yourself because somehow you believe you were good enough to bring these good things upon yourself. But if God is real, and the source of all good things, then every holiday, every meal, every night when you lie down in bed is an occasion to thank Him for His kindness.
If we understand this, it changes the way we think about every good thing in our lives. For example, I have an amazing wife. But I don’t idolize my wife. I don’t have to pretend she’s without flaw to love and appreciate her, and I don’t tell myself that I have an amazing wife because somehow I earned or deserved her. I just thank God for her. She’s a gift, and she’s more than I deserve. In a similar way, I’m grateful for my country. I love the USA, and I know it’s a great privilege to live here, but I don’t have to idolize it and pretend it is without flaws. And I don’t think I was born here because I’m somehow better than people who were not. I just recognize that my good and wise God, for His own mysterious purposes, decided I would live here and now, and I thank Him for His kindness. When I set off fireworks and enjoy apple pie with family, I’m not worshiping the United States. I’m celebrating one aspect of the goodness of God in my life.
What are the good things in your life? Have you been idolizing them? Or telling yourself you deserve them? Whether it’s your family, or your job, or your home, or your health, or your hobbies, or your finances, or the nation you live in, or the natural beauty around you, I guarantee you there is Someone to thank. This week, make sure to tell Him how grateful you are for every good thing you enjoy.