The summer of my 10th birthday, I was desperate for a 10-speed bike. I dropped subtle hints, I played on my parents’ sympathy, and, feeling my efforts were not having the desired effect, I got downright bratty—hoping beyond hope that they would heed my pleading and grant me this one request. My birthday arrived, and I was led into our garage where my dad was poised with the video camera proudly gesturing to a brand-new 10-speed bike. Instead of joy, I felt like a fool. Tears flowed as I thanked my parents for such a kind gift, but my heart was heavy as my behavior over the previous weeks crashed into the reality that my parents had purchased the bike (which they hid in our neighbor’s garage) long before my most earnest pleading had even started. They endured my asking when they had already met the need.
As Christians, we know our greatest need has been met in Christ. But it can be so difficult to let that reality color both the good and the hard things we endure. And, like 10-year-old me who just wanted a bike, we can find ourselves petitioning God for what we think is best for us.
Here’s where the bike story falls short because unlike my parents who were just trying to bless me with a birthday gift they knew would make me happy, God is far more interested in making me (us) not happy but holy.
At the most basic level, I believe gratitude is a posture of surrender. An understanding that God, in His sovereignty, has provided exactly what He knows we need in His timing. And because His ways are perfect, we can stand in the midst of heartache or triumph assured that what has come from His hand is not an accident. “Thank you, Father” is easy to say when things are going well. But gratitude in the midst of trial may sound more like “I don’t understand, Father, but I trust you and your purposes; may this draw me closer to you. Help me to honor you as I walk in faith.”
Isaiah 55: 6-11 speaks so beautifully to God’s sovereignty and care. In verse 8 we get a glimpse of why we are able to not only surrender to God’s plan, but do it joyfully and without fear:
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”
God is reminding us that He just knows more than we do. His thoughts and ways are so far above our own, and they are ultimately best.
I was pretty sure I knew what was best for me when petitioning my parents for a bike. My thoughts were I would look pretty awesome biking to the local drug store to buy candy on a sweet new ride. How often are we tempted to have similar thoughts when it comes to what we’re hoping God will do for us? If only I had your answer here, then life would be pretty awesome.
There is danger here in conflating getting what we want with feeling loved. Had there been no bike unveiling, would I have felt less loved by my parents? When what we think we need doesn’t come to pass, do we feel less loved by our Heavenly Father?And if we feel less loved, like we have somehow been slighted by God, are we likely to grumble or be grateful?
Oh how I pray we have hearts that bend toward gratitude, because whether the bike appears in the garage or we have to ride the old one a bit longer, our reconciliation with the Father is the ultimate display of His love for us. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He met the need before we even asked.
Going back to Isaiah 55, we see God speaking of His sovereign power to bring about His ultimate plan:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” —Isaiah 55:10-11
Did you catch the intentionality in those verses? God is very specifically letting us know that nothing He purposes will be thwarted. He sends the rain and snow to do their job in growing the seed that produces bread. He sent His Son to be the sacrifice on our behalf so that we could stand forgiven and spend eternity with Him.
Our surrender to the kind providence of a good Father rests on the fact that His words do not return empty and His purposes are accomplished. On this side of the cross and the empty tomb we understand that our greatest need—to be reconciled to the Father through the blood of Jesus—has been met. Therefore we can live a life of gratitude for all that comes from God, whose thoughts and ways are not our own, when we rest secure in the truth that we lack nothing because of Christ’s completed work.
Soli Deo Gloria.