Each and every day, I am learning to be thankful. That sounds a bit odd, now doesn’t it? But not really. In a perfect world, I believe that living life as a grateful people would come naturally to us, like breathing. But this is not a perfect world. It’s a fallen world and we are a flawed people. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we close them again sometime late in the evening, it’s easy to breeze right through our days, missing the blessings, big and small, and the favor that our Almighty God and Father graces us with, and believing that everything we own or have become is a result of our own hard work, effort and intelligence. It can be easy in our high tech, high speed, self-focused lives to miss the gifts God leaves for us along our daily paths, to recognize they are from Him and to thank Him for them. I know….because I’ve been so guilty of this for much of my own life.
For me, growing in thankfulness comes from keeping my heart and mind focused and centered on my Lord, while making a determined effort to slow down and take time to look around for the blessings from Him that may or may not be obvious to me throughout my day.
Right now, I’m thankful for this day. I do not know what it hold for me, what all it entails. Yet, I choose to be thankful for it. I am thankful for the time in the early mornings that I’m able to spend with my Savior. I am grateful for the peace He affords me when I do. I’m thankful for the beauty of the stars when they glimmer and sparkle against the deep black velvet sky, like diamonds in a jewelry store showcase, or play hide-and-seek among the wisps of clouds that move across the early morning sky. I’m grateful for the dawn’s beginning: the wind of His breath that whispers through the bushes and the trees leaves. I’m thankful for the symphony of sounds: the tinkling wind chimes in my backyard and the chorus of crickets, tree frogs and birds. I’m grateful that I can inhale and enjoy the scents that float around me -- the fresh bamboo, lavender and peppermint candles I’m burning in various parts of the house right now, and the smell from my rain soaked backyard -- and that I can taste my morning coffee with its warm, rich flavor and a hint of cinnamon, and my crisp, buttery toast. I’m so, so thankful to God that my son and daughter are safely asleep in their bedrooms upstairs, and that they are healthy. And I’m grateful to God that I can walk, speak, see, hear, feel the temperature changes, think, write! Most of all, I am thankful for the privilege of being able to talk to my Lord Jesus, and that He hears my voice and listens to me when I bring Him my praise, my worship, my thanks, my joys, my sorrows, my rants, my needs, my concerns…and that He loves and cares about me, no matter what. There are so many things to be thankful to Him for.
But wait a minute here. What happens when my life ISN’T so rosy? How about when my day DOESN’T start off so peacefully and the coffee's bitter, the toast is burned, the birds, tree frogs and crickets aren’t making music because it’s pouring down rain and my basement’s flooded? Are we to be thankful for our rebellious, prodigal children (no matter what their age), for our mundane, dead-end jobs (or for the job we DON’T have), for the health problems that plague us and only seem to get worse, for the perennially empty bank account and never ending bills, for that person that just can’t seem to commit to the relationship we long to have with them, for the loss of a loved one, for our broken hearts and broken dreams? When life is dark and uncomfortable, filled with trials and storms, are we also to give thanks to God? And how in the world do we do that?
Over the years, I’ve heard sermons that point to 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says in the New Living Translation: ‘Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.’ I’ve taken that to mean that I should thank God for His loving, powerful presence in my life and for the work He is doing in all my trial-like situations. Makes sense to me. But then there’s this other troubling verse, found in Ephesians 5:20, also in the NLT: ‘And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Notice the change in wording: give thanks FOR everything. So what does this mean? Are we to give thanks for being jobless or homeless; for our falling apart marriages, our cancer diagnosis, the crash that totaled our car, for being the sole caretaker for our aging, ill parent or the death of a child? I can’t imagine talking to our Lord and saying, “Father, I’m so thankful that I have diabetes and have no job,” or, “Lord, how grateful I am that my son is on drugs and that my daughter was born with autism.” These things don’t roll off the tongue easily or comfortably, and honestly, I don‘t think they should.
However, I think, if we can come to the place where we truly believe that the Lord doesn’t bring about trials and storms in our lives because He delights in tormenting us or in punishing us for mistakes we’ve made, but does so instead to change us, to strengthen us, to teach us and to grow us, we can learn to thank Him sincerely, for the things He brings about in our lives are for His glory. We can begin to grow in thankfulness. Thankfulness to the Lord in hard times, as is praise to Him, is a sacrifice. Asaph, one of the psalmists, wrote these God breathed words in Psalm 50:23 (New Living Translation): ‘But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors Me. If you keep to My path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.’ And Jonah, while lodged inside the belly of a huge fish, humbly and desperately cried out to the LORD, ‘But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.’ (Jonah 2:9, NLT) And finally, the apostle Paul, who was inspired to pen those words in Ephesians 5:20, also said this in 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 (NIV): ‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
Like Paul, we can learn to thank God for allowing us to be the vessel through which He displays His glory, His honor, His power. We can learn to thank Him for strengthening us in our trials and for transforming us into more loving, compassionate, grace-filled followers of Him. We can learn to thank Him for the lessons He is constantly teaching us, and for drawing us ever closer to Him through every fiery trial and difficult situation. So while I may not say, “LORD God, thank You so much for allowing me to have cancer, thank You for these challenging children and this problematic marriage,” I CAN thank Him for the lessons in strength, perseverance, compassion, patience, humility and forgiveness that He has and continues to teach me, and for the way He continually draws me closer to Him as a result.
So for this present moment, I am growing in thankfulness, grateful to God for the wonder and the glory that He shows me in each day, in large and small ways; in mundane and exciting experiences; and for the growth that comes out of each situation and circumstance, good and bad; joyful and sorrowful. Lord, I’m thankful for Your nearness, Your realness, Your loving presence.
What if in the morning when I wake up
Even before I fill my coffee cupI said, "Thank You, thank You"
What if I look at the day and the hours ahead
And before I move forward I bowed my headI said, "Thank You", oh, I said, "Thank You"
What if I looked at my life in a different way
Took a little more time to stop and pray
I know it will change all the moments in betweenSo here I go….
Thank You for everything
Thank You for loving me
It don't even matter what tomorrow bringsWell, I will sing my
Thank You for sun and rain
For what You give and take away
For all Your goodness, I will always say
Thank You, oh I say thank You ~ ‘Thank You,’ by 33 Miles