In a few weeks, 2016 will mercifully end.
This year’s been a doozy. Terror attacks. Zika. Police shootings. Racial tension. Syria. Floods. Fires. The deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Muhammed Ali, Harper Lee, Gene Wilder, Elie Wiesel, Leonard Cohen, Gwen Ifill and countless other talented men and women. Even Hollywood produced a disappointing crop of summer films.
And then there was the most outlandish Presidential election in our lifetimes — a contest between a man accused of bullying and a woman investigated by the FBI. The candidates’ embarrassing rhetoric was only eclipsed by that of their followers, who filled public spaces with anger, name-calling and vitriol.
This year has been so bad that Richard Clark of Christianity Today dubbed it “the year of living hopelessly.” Chris Rock famously Tweeted (in June, no less), “I wish this year would stop already it’s just [too] much.”
Nevertheless, we will all soon gather around Thanksgiving tables. We’ll be prompted to share what we’re grateful for. So we have to ask the question: After 2016, can we even be thankful anymore?
Gratitude doesn’t negate the awfulness of 2016. But it does give us hope in the midst of it.
Finding Gratitude in the Pages of Scripture
As Christians, the words of Scripture are our ultimate authority. And when we consult them, the answer to this question is abundantly clear: We absolutely have reasons to be thankful. Here are just a few.
We can give thanks for God himself. His character is good. He doesn’t change. And his love will endure for all eternity. The Psalmist encapsulates these thoughts when he exclaims,
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1, emphasis added; cf. 107:1, 118:1)
We can give thanks for God’s kingdom. This kingdom has taken root in part now, and it will one day exist fully. It’s a kingdom that can’t be destroyed, no matter who is (or isn’t) in the White House. The author of Hebrews writes,
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28, emphasis added)
We can give thanks for the church. God didn’t call his people to live isolated, lonely lives. He called them to join as “one body,” the church — an ancient, countercultural community that worships, serves and witnesses together. The apostle Paul writes,
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-20, emphasis added)
We can give thanks for the church’s mission. As the church, God calls us to take part in making his name known — and his “fragrance” spread — across all the earth. Paul explains,
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis added)
We can also give thanks in all circumstances. God desires that rejoicing, prayer and gratitude be as natural for us as breathing:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis added)
This list is by no means exhaustive. You can probably point to dozens more passages about gratitude in Scripture, or hundreds of ways God has blessed you. But the point is clear enough. When we take our gaze off ourselves and the gloomy headlines, and we fix it instead on the person and work of Christ, then we see that we have much to be thankful for. Even in 2016.
Our gratitude demonstrates that we have something distinctive to offer the world.
Gratitude and Engaging Culture
Gratitude doesn’t negate the awfulness of 2016. But it does give us hope in the midst of it. Plus, your gratitude this year may have an added side effect: It will help you engage culture.
What does gratitude have to do with cultural engagement? Everything. At its core, cultural engagement is about our daily decisions to love our neighbors.
If our neighbors see us demonstrating gratitude in the midst of awfulness, or joy in the midst of sorrow, they may begin to wonder why. We then can respond by helping them fix their gaze on our great Savior — the giver of all good things (including gratitude).
Our gratitude demonstrates that we have something distinctive to offer the world. And after a year like 2016, our neighbors might be ready to hear about it.