Honestly, these are difficult times. And looking at the situation of things, you may wonder what exactly there is to be grateful for. I know I did. But what I’m learning about gratitude is that in its true sense, it does not require a prompt. It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well, when business is working out fine, your career is on the right track, your family is fed, and you can afford your life. No one tells you to dance in thanksgiving when you receive good news, or when you accomplish something great. Those are easy times. Your heart practically sings in those times.
But when nothing seems to work and you’re not sure exactly where your life is headed, how do you find the will to give thanks? Because in those times, it is easy to forget all the good things that have ever happened to you. They suddenly become diminished in significance and weight. So what, God provided money when you needed it last year, but what about this year? “Lord, I know you came through for me that one time, but what about this time?”
What do you say thank you for? Your wretchedness? Your lack or insufficiency? The insecurity of your job or the general air of uncertainty that hangs about you? Your sick child/spouse/parent/friend? Your dying business and empty pockets? Your joblessness or the increasing cost of living? What?
Thankfully, we are not expected to give thanks FOR these things, we are to give thanks IN them. That is, even in the midst of the worst horror, we are to give thanks, for this is God’s will for us [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. But how?
I think it requires a shift in focus. Gratitude is something to be deliberate about.
The good news is; we are in good company. We have good examples to follow.
Jesus, fully aware of the gruesome death that awaited him, at the last supper, he gave thanks for the sacrifice that he was about to make.
David, hiding in caves, trying to get as far away from Saul (who wanted him dead) as he possibly could, he still had time to reflect deeply on God’s goodness, and he said: “My heart is fixed O God, my heart is steadfast and confident! I will sing and make melody.” (Psalms 57:7).
Or Job, who lost everything he had, all he had ever worked for in just one day, and in quick succession. A servant was telling him about the loss of his oxen and donkeys when another messenger came in with the news of the burnt sheep and servants. Enter another with the grim story of how raiding parties swept away all his camels and put his servants to the sword, but wait, it’s not over; while the last servant was still speaking, another servant entered and told him that all his children were dead!
Do you know what Job did? “…Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised”.
International author Mathew Henry was accosted by thieves and robbed of his purse and he wrote:
“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third although they took my all, it was not much; and fourthly, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed”.
A young woman I know, paying her last respects to her husband who died of an illness at a young age. As she poured sand from the shovel onto the coffin that was already lowered, she said over and over, “Lord, I thank you! Jehovah you are worthy!” I could see the tears in her eyes, and believe me, I thought she was crazy at first, but then, that’s when it hit me, “In all things, give thanks”. The meaning of those words didn’t really sink in until that time.
One of the things that stands in the way of gratitude is comparison. …
It may be difficult to say “Lord, I thank you for the day I had. It was terrible, but here I am at the end of it.” Or “Lord my heart is breaking, but I am grateful because it’s still beating.” But you see, the hardest part is finding a reason to be thankful when everything is upside down. When you decide that even if there seems to be no reason, you will be grateful from your heart, the rest is easy. All you have to do is start, and the rest will flow out of the sincerity of your heart. You may hear yourself say, ““I am grateful even though these past months have been rough. I believe that tomorrow will be better””. Or “Lord I praise you through my heartbreak; I know that your love is putting me back together even now””.
As John Piper says, spiritual gratitude is not circumstantial. You get there by looking to the joy that is set before you. The joy may not be a change in your situation or the betterment of your circumstance here on earth. Ultimately, it is that Jesus is your reward. So if you believe the promises that God has made you, no circumstance will steal your joy.
Decide to be grateful. Get a notebook and a pen, write down at least one thing you are grateful for everyday, anything at all that comes to mind. And don’t discount anything; little things add up to big things. Write them down, be grateful for them. If you make this a habit, you’d be surprised at how much better your outlook will be.
I’ll conclude with the words of Mary Morristey: “It’s easy to feel grateful when we receive a raise, meet the love of our life, watch our children succeed. But spiritual gratitude is not circumstantial. It arises from a true knowing that God is our source. We feel thankful everyday, even in the midst of life’s challenges”.