First of all, just let me say that I believe gratitude is a good thing. Not only is it a good thing, it is a Biblical command – “Give thanks in all circumstances …” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But there’s a problem with gratitude. Gratitude looks back at what’s been done, given, or accomplished … therefore is an inadequate motivation for looking forward to tomorrow (John Piper helped me work this out years ago in my favorite book of his – Future Grace).
You and I said “thanks” for our gifts on Christmas morning, but we need something more to motivate us the day after Christmas. What is that something more? Looking forward to the gifts that God continually bestows every day until He returns and for all of eternity! That’s what Piper calls “faith in future grace”. Here’s why I think this is a big deal:
We know what’s expected of us
It’s easy to be grateful on Christmas morning. Most of us that have reached an age of understanding social norms recognize that we are supposed to say “thank you” to grandma, and express appreciation for what we were given whether we like it or not. Any moralistic, behavior-oriented, socially-aware individual can do that (most of the time). We are conditioned to perform, and even “giving thanks” can become a conditioned response. I’m not suggested that we don’t say “thanks”, I’m just suggesting that we recognize where our gratitude can malfunction, and that there is more to gratitude that often gets revealed the next day.
When the expectation to perform is no longer present
In our house the day after Christmas ends up being the day to return what you didn’t like, didn’t fit, or want the cash from to buy something else. Gifts cards that were gratefully received on Christmas get bartered away between siblings for cash to get what you really want. Of course there isn’t anything wrong with returning gifts, it just alerts us to the great reality that the gifts of yesterday don’t satisfy in being the gifts of tomorrow. We want more, different, or even if we loved what we got we want that feeling of pleasure to last as long as possible (I’m still basking in the glow of my Apple Watch, but it’ll fade over time). My point? The expected social gratitude … and even the proper Biblical heart response of gratitude is a flawed motivation for tomorrow. It’s always looking backwards, and it’s often seeking an experience or feeling.
We get pleasures forevermore … greater than Christmas morning
The truth of the matter is that for the follower of Jesus even if everything falls apart the day after Christmas, we still have the greatest gift one could ever receive. The kids can complain, the relatives leave grumpy, the house left in shambles, but Jesus is still enough. The new year may hold suffering, disappointment, and broken relationships, but the Spirit of God is still at work sanctifying and conforming you into the image of Christ. If we are merely motivated by gratitude when this stuff hits, then there is nothing to be grateful for anymore, and you have to coax up some regurgitated gratitude of days gone by to get you through. But if motivated by faith in the future pleasures of God then we can face the day after Christmas … and everyday knowing that God is at work … and it only gets better!
So be grateful … I’m sure you have much to thank God for. But be a person of faith … we have a God who gives good gifts to His children every day, and never ceases to make the delights of the Gospel precious to those who seek Him.