You’ve probably seen them by now. They are small electronic devices that fit into the palm of your hand and make noises similar to those of a touch-tone telephone.
They are called Virtual Pets and are available in a variety of animal sounds–anything from dogs to monkeys to dinosaurs.
They’re actually pretty clever. They give the owner a sense of what it’s like to have a real pet. You have to feed and water them. You can play with them and make them do tricks. If you’re not careful, they may wake you up during the night. If you neglect them for too long, or the battery wears down, they die. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it is now possible to have a pet without really having a pet.
Did you know that it is possible to celebrate Thanksgiving without really being thankful? Of course you did. Is it possible that YOU could celebrate your thankfulness without genuine gratitude? Yes, again. Like the electronic pet, virtual gratitude looks and feels like the real thing. Yet there is as much difference between the two kinds of thanksgiving as there is between a virtual pet and a real one.
It seems incredible that Americans could celebrate thanksgiving with anything but genuine gratitude. After all, so many blessings–so rich in nature, so abundant in number, so varied in kind–have been and continue to be ours.
And yet, strangely enough, prosperity doesn’t produce thankful people.
Moses recognized this long before his people inherited the good land for which they had not labored. With God-given foresight, Moses was moved to record the Spirit’s own words: “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God . . . ” (Deut. 8:10).
They, too, would be surrounded by blessings. They, too, would be tempted to be superficial in their gratitude. Seeing one’s many blessings is easy; remembering where they come from and what they mean is hard.
Finding The Key
So tempting it is to secretly think that many of the things we have are the result of our hard work and our ingenuity. Moses even warned: “Then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth'” (Deut. 8:17). That would be virtual gratitude–saying that we are grateful with our lips, but secretly believing that our prosperity is our own doing.
So, while many Americans are trying to “count their blessings one by one,” Christians need a different approach.
Better than “What do I have?” or “What good things have happened to me this year?” are the questions, “What have I really deserved?” and “What has God done for me, in spite of my sins?” Then we’ll be ready to stand with Jacob and confess: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and truth which You have shown Your servant” (Gen. 32:10).
True gratitude is possible only when we understand grace–the fact that God continually gives us what we don’t deserve.
Therefore the key to genuine thankfulness isn’t found in the Fourth Petition on daily bread, but in the Fifth Petition on God’s grace.
To make ours a real thanksgiving, we need to confess with Luther: “For we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.”
–Pastor James Albrecht