In the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-step programs, November is considered gratitude month. So much so, that nearly every meeting is on the topic of gratitude and attendees get sick to death of talking about it. Odd, isn’t it, that we would become sick of talking about how grateful we are? However, it’s true. Part of the reason behind that, in my opinion, is many people forget just how much they have to be grateful for, especially when they don’t have the hope that we as believers in Jesus as the one and only Son of God have. Even then, I found myself like everyone else. I would get sick of talking about gratitude, because my gratitude list was only so long, and I hate hearing anyone, including myself, say the same things over and over again. As if nothing ever changes and there isn’t any more to life than the top 10 things on our gratitude list.
That was what I had. My top 10 list, just like David Letterman, my top 10 reasons for being grateful to be alive and sober. Before I was married, and when I first was sober, this was my list…
- A relationship with God – you may ask, PJ, why was a relationship with God 2nd back then? Because without the sobriety God had given me, I would never have sought him out and had my relationship with him in the first place.
- My mom
- My dad
- The rest of my family
- A place to live
- Transportation to get to meetings
- My sponsors
- My friends in AA
That was as far as my list got. Sometimes, when I was really depressed, I could only remember that top two or three, but I wrote this list and kept it in several places to look at and remind myself. I had a reason to be alive. I had a reason to have HOPE.
As my life changed and things came and went, the list shifted and changed too. God and sobriety became the core of a circle and my gratitude list began to expand out from that center. It started to look more like a bull’s eye in my mind than a top 10 list.
You’ll notice now. God is number one but in the same core as Sobriety which is number two. But #1 causes #2 to happen and has from the first moment of my sobriety, although I wasn’t quite conscious of that. My wife, Sierra, is number three. And she understands and is grateful for why. If I didn’t have my relationship with God and if I wasn’t sober, I would quickly go off the deep end loosing her and everything else while I would be destroying my life and their lives as well. And then the circle starts to widen… But the circle itself still has that bottom part, “What did I forget? That stuff too…”
Sometime ago, I had a professor in a spiritual formation class that issued a thankfulness challenge. She asked us to list five things per day during the eight weeks of the class that we were grateful for. But there was a catch, no two items could repeat themselves. Unlike my top 10 list in AA, and unlike my circle that has 22 items plus the catch all, no repeats… So (5×7) x 8 = 280. Our list had to have 280 separate items on it. As you can imagine, since I already had a habit of cultivating a heart of gratitude based on my other lists, the first five days or so were easy. BUT… As the days went on, the task became more and more difficult. My first problem was repeats coming to my mind. The second problem was I had to start getting more and more specific in order to brainstorm more and more items. Let’s try something, I have twenty-two items on my list, how can my list get more specific, or what would you have on your list that I don’t have? We have #x people here today. Let’s start on this side of the room…………no repeating what I already have or what someone else says.
The more people we ask, the more we have to think. The longer my list went and the more specific I got, I had to review my list over and over again to make sure I wasn’t repeating items too. I had to start asking questions like, “What about my relationship with God am I grateful for?” “What about my wife am I grateful for” “What about each of my kids?” I even started to ask myself, “What foods am I grateful for?” Hunan pork from Golden Dragon and China House up in South Bend, IN even made the list. It might seem ridiculous, but I love that dish and the way they prepare it.
However, if we go all the way back to the center of my bull’s eye. My relationship with God. My relationship with God is based on HOPE and FAITH. The Bible has a lot to say about HOPE and FAITH. The writer of Hebrews in the Bible defines faith as,
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.”
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament plus the New Testament, the word that means hope in the verb sense is used 95 times, in it’s noun form it is used another 78 times. The Bible makes a pretty big deal about hope, but why? Hope throughout the scriptures has the meaning and connotation of expectantly waiting for something. Hope isn’t just a whimsical sort of wishy washy, “I hope I have a good day today” or a negative type “Boy, I hope I don’t get into a car accident today.” Hope is even more expectant than an overcast day with a 85% chance of rain and thunderstorms, a farmer puts on a poncho and goes out into the pasture to bring the horses into the barn before the rain starts. He hopes it’s going to rain to benefit his crops, hopes the rain starts soon, but hopes the horses don’t spooked by the thunder so he is bringing them into the stable where they’ll feel safer.
That puts a whole different perspective on hope, doesn’t it? Paul prays for the believers in Rome,
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NLT
God, the center of the bull’s eye, is the source of our hope, the source of our joy and peace, the source of the confidence, expectation and assurance that something is going to happen, something we can trust far more that a weatherman’s forecast, that we can have in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to live lives that glorify God. We can have that hope, that absolute trust, that expectant waiting, because God has fulfilled his promises over and over again. The writer of Hebrews in chapter six encourages those believers not to reject God, to get beyond the most elementary of teaching and have an expectant hope, trust, and confidence in God because of the promises he has already fulfilled. The writer says,
‘Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this is what we intend to do, if God permits…
After giving harsh warnings to those who would fall away and reject God, he continues on…
‘ But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.’
We don’t like pulling certain proof texts and omitting others, but for the sake of not engaging in an argument over apostacy right now, we will stick to the matter at hand. The HOPE, confident trust, the expectant waiting for God to fulfill all his promises.
At the moment of our salvation, we have an expectant hope, and we have the confident assurance that Holy Spirit is with us. God in his fullness and glory demonstrates his love for us through his Son, Jesus, that we have the forgiveness of our sins, we have access to the throne of grace, we have the victory over sin that empowers us to turn away from the nature of the flesh and fulfilling all its desires and power to live holy lives that are set apart and shining brightly to attract others to God in his glory. Jesus defined eternal life in John 17:3. Praying in the garden on the night he would be betrayed and handed over to be crucified John writes…
‘When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you – just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. Now this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. ‘
Eternal life, the eternal life we so expectantly hope for is living in us right now, as those who believe in Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, through our relationship with the Father through the Son in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have the hope of the resurrection to come, we have the hope of life everlasting in God’s presence. We can also have the knowledge, not book learning head knowledge of facts and statistics, but the deep intimate knowledge far closer than the way a wife knows her husband, of the Father, the one true God, and his Son, Jesus, who was sent to live, reside, and remain with us.
As we go into a time of communion together, remembering Jesus body broken for us and his blood spilled on our behalf as an atoning sacrifice that washes away our sins; reflect on Paul’s prayer over the believers in Ephesus, and know that is the heart of what I hope for in you as well. Paul says,
Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.
Ephesians 1:15-23 NLT