The Great Thanksgiving Test

Are you a good judge of people's character? Do you know their true personalities? Can you discern what hides in another person's heart? Do you know whom you can trust?

Quite honestly, discerning another person's true character is complicated and uncertain. We often get it wrong. We think we know people, so we affirm and trust them and then are often disappointed – even disillusioned. "Better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all," we say, trying to recover from the hurt in our hearts – and maybe our wallets. So, how can we discern real character better? Can we look into hearts and measure true motives? What is a good clue to the real personalities, the true quality of the moral fiber of others?

Time for the personal hint of the day: A person who gives sincere thanks is more trustworthy than someone who does not. The "attitude of gratitude" is a great sign that someone's "heart is in the right place" and is committed to the good, is oriented to what is right. A person who does not openly acknowledge the good that you or others do – or that God does – is working from a futile mind and a foolish heart, as the Apostle Paul honestly observed about 2,000 years ago, as he began his letter to fellow believers in Rome. Giving thanks to God and speaking well of him are two behaviors that help people hold on to the good life. That was Paul's understanding.

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How does giving thanks make such a difference? Looking into people's hearts is a deep subject, but let me make two observations that will help show how that people's "gratitude attitude" matters in our personal assessment of them.

First, we are all born as ego-centrists, and acknowledging the goodness of others breaks down the child's or adult's original ego-centric framework. Simply put, in each of our lives, our first experiences in this world are self-centered. As newborn babies, each of us should have been treated as royalty, because every human is an endowed child of God – a precious, irreplaceable image of God. Every baby should be the center of attention in their homes – properly loved, cared for, coddled, fussed over, pampered, protected, and much more. Such pampered royalty! What a gross tragedy is perpetrated when this necessary love-filled attention is missing! What an absolute horror when any human baby is ill-treated or neglected or killed – whether through abortion or some other despicable form of child abuse!

Gratitude powerfully breaks down this inborn, egocentric shell. The protective self-centered shell is fine for babies – but when it outlasts its purpose, it creates harmful illusions about the extant world, authentic relationships, existent responsibilities. Some adults never shake this distorting shell. That is why it is so important for the children to learn the joy of sincerely expressing their thanks to God and to others. Even on the most elementary level, thanking another person at the very minimum acknowledges that the other person exists and that he or she is important. The beliefs and behaviors of gratitude actively transform the attitudes of the egocentric child's mind and heart and help to break down the inhibiting, stunting, dense walls of ego-centrism. Tragically, many adults have yet to break out of the distorting, in-born, self-centered walls, and therefore they state their "gratitude" only in detached, somewhat routine expressions – if they give thanks at all. Regardless of what they say, be wary of people who are still stuck in their infantile, ungrateful, ego-centric worlds – and do not expect them to acknowledge that you are important, worthy of respect.

Second, the gratitude attitude is a tremendous tool for growing in grace – and becoming trustworthy people. We "say grace" before we eat, because we have received the delightful grace of every edible on our plates and tables. Expressing thanks sincerely opens our eyes to see more and more amazing graces in this world. Even in times of trouble, we should be grateful for the strength to endure and the power to overcome, as well as our upcoming victories yet to be seen. And whenever we express gratitude to others, we further open our relationship into other potentially beloved and beneficial encounters.

We also grow in grace when we express deep, authentic gratitude to the living God, because we have chosen this one more precious opportunity to communicate and commune with our Creator, our Lord and Savior. The more we commune with him, the more we continue to grow in him and know him. In that on-going process we then receive even more grace and build even more mutual trust and are able to express even more thanks.

If we do not express true and enduring gratitude to God, we are acting as if he did not exist – as if he did nothing, as if he is not important, even though we know much better, of course.
Tragically, even some self-professed "believers" have chosen to live in such a quasi-atheist, anesthetic world.

Can God trust you? What do you think? Really.

Are you living the gratitude attitude? Do you fully acknowledge him as the Source? Do you openly, unashamedly, deeply communicate your heartfelt thanks to the Almighty? Then continue to expect his trust and grow further in his grace. Thank him often and sense his pleasure.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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