With Thanksgiving fast approaching (or maybe it has passed quickly by the time you read this), I’ve been giving some thought about how to choose an attitude of gratitude when my emotions are clouded with just the opposite.
I find it a whole lot easier to give thanks when I’m on a mountaintop rather than in a valley, don’t you? When life is good, marriage is solid, kids are doing well, and work is great, it’s easy to give thanks. But when life’s circumstances are hard, gratitude tends to give way to grumpiness.
In his book Getting Jesus Wrong, author Matt Johnson reminds us that most of life is lived in the valley. He writes, “I do believe that belonging to Jesus makes a positive day-to-day difference in the lives of believers. But we simply can’t expect life to be a string of mountaintop experiences. Expecting these types of experiences is corrosive to our souls because much of life is lived in a valley” (5).
I had a friend in a previous ministry who always seemed bored and restless, and he spent an inordinate amount of time chasing after what’s new and exciting. His view of Christianity was that Jesus would always take you to the mountaintop of overflowing abundance. After several years of chasing the gifts more than the Giver, however, he burned out, dried up, and walked away from the Faith as though Jesus had failed him.
Jesus didn’t fail him, and He won’t fail you either. But we must not forget that Jesus is found more in the valley than on the mountain. In Matthew 17:1-9, Jesus ascended a mountain with James, John and Peter. After Moses and Elijah appeared, Jesus transfigured into the fulness of His glory, and Peter, overwhelmed by what he saw, wanted to set up tents to “linger longer” and remain in the glorified presence of Jesus. But the mountaintop experience came to a close, and Jesus came down the mountain, back to real life, back to ministry, back to the normal routines of the valley.
Jesus reveals that mountaintop experiences, powerful though they may be, are not normative. If they are, then those in spiritual valleys are out of luck. The good news is that God does not require us to ascend to Him; Jesus descends to us. Following Jesus may include occasional mountaintop experiences, but most of the time, just like the disciples, “we follow Him through the highways and byways of life, and our feet get tired, blistered, and really dirty” (ibid., 12).
So, this Thanksgiving (and beyond), let’s commit to give thanks when we’re in the valley and not just on top of the mountain. Let’s choose an attitude of gratitude, especially when our emotions are clouded with just the opposite.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).