Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Hebrews 13:15)
A couple of weeks ago, my son came home from school and proclaimed that it was "the best day ever." Well, my wife and I were excited. I started imagining what had made his day the best ever. Maybe he'd been commended for his good work by his teacher. Maybe he'd been elected kindergarten class president. Maybe he had been judged too brilliant for kindergarten and had been promoted on to first grade. Maybe a major-league scout had noticed his pitching arm and wanted to sign him to a developmental contract.
OK, I didn't really think all that. (Well, maybe the first one!) But naturally I concluded that something extraordinary must have happened to make this day go down in history forever as The Best Day Ever. I mean, this kid has had a pretty good life. He's had a lot of great days. I sat up on the proverbial edge of my seat waiting to hear what made this one stand out.
What I'm doing right now is creating what writers call "dramatic tension." The idea is to get you on the edge of your seat with me, or at least get you to scoot forward a little. And if you're there, maybe even a little frustrated that I haven't yet told you what made that day two weeks ago The Best Day Ever, then you're ready for an observation: Most of us are pretty hard to impress. How many times have you answered the question, "How was your day?" with the declaration that it was The Best Day Ever? Once, maybe twice, tops? Rarely, if it all, do we end a day giddy with excitement over the good things that happened. We're much more likely to end the day wrestling with the answers to problems. Regretting bad decisions. Trying to put bad experiences out of our minds. And if we happen to have had a good day, we don't want it to be over. We feel pretty sure that tomorrow won't be nearly as good.
That's why, I suppose, I was surprised by what made Josh's day the Best Ever. Ready to get off the edge of your seat? Bre prepared — you might feel a little letdown. "Bobby let me go first in line." That's it. That does it. Just like that — Best Day Ever. Well, I feigned enthusiasm for his benefit. I said "Wow" and talked about how cool it was. But I confess I didn't get it. Getting to go first in line boosts a day to Best Ever status? Not in my book. In my book, Best Ever has to involve winning a lottery or the Braves winning the Series or something of that magnitude.
We're hard to impress. We miss the little things that should make us glad because we're so focused on the big things. We think that joy is a jackpot that comes with lights, bells, and sirens. And so very often while we're waiting for the jackpot, joy slips right by in other guises. We fail to appreciate our families. We don't take satisfaction in a job well done. We forget to be thankful for our wives and husbands because we spend so much time thinking about how we'd like them to be different. We don't notice how blessed we are because we're too busy noticing how many more blessings the folks across the hall or down the street have.
I friend of mine believes that gratitude is the cardinal virtue of believers, the one characteristic that Christians cannot be without. Once you notice how often the biblical writers emphasize the importance of being thankful, it's hard to argue with him. "Through Jesus ... let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise." Continually? Oh, come on. We can be thankful sometimes. Most of us can muster up a few hours of thankfulness per week. But continually? Is that really possible?
You don't have to fake a chirpy voice or a syrupy smile. You don't have to close your eyes to the hard realities of life. God can handle our pain and anger and grief, wants us to pour it out to him. But don't forget to be thankful for what God has already done. Don't forget to praise him for his faithfulness to you in the past. Remember the grace he has shown you, the forgiveness he continually offers. Remember the victories he has enabled you to win. Thank him for the times when his will has overruled yours because his wisdom outweighed yours.
Keep gratitude as your default setting by cultivating the habit of praise. That's what it is, habit: habitually seeing the kindness and grace and love of God where others cannot. Make sure your prayers are loaded with thankfulness. Develop the habit of praising God in your conversations. Train your spirit to feel God's breath in the kiss of your spouse, hear his voice in the kind words of a friend, see his fingerprints in a brand-new snowfall, sense his protective presence in a long journey. Even in dark valleys, when you can't see him or hear him or feel him, you know he's there, right? Thank him for being with you even when your senses are too limited to recognize him.
I can't guarantee that all your days will be the Greatest Ever. But I can promise you that your God is.