On our wedding day, Martie and I gladly vowed to be faithful “in good times as well as in bad, in sickness as well as in health, for richer or for poorer.” In a way it may seem strange to include vows about the bleak reality of bad times, sickness, and poverty on a cheerful wedding day. But it underscores the fact that life often has “bad” times.
So what are we to do when we face life’s inevitable difficulties? Paul urges us on behalf of Christ to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As difficult as that may sound, there is good reason why God encourages us to embrace a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is grounded in the truth that our Lord “is good” and “his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). He is present with us and strengthens us in the midst of trouble (Hebrews 13:5–6), and He lovingly uses our trials to grow our character into His likeness (Romans 5:3–4).
When life hits us with hard times, choosing to be grateful focuses our attention on the goodness of God and gives us the strength to make it through our struggles. With the psalmist, we can sing, “Give thanks to the
Regina drove home from work discouraged and tired. The day had started with tragic news in a text message from a friend, then spiraled downward in meetings with co-workers who refused to work with any of her ideas. As Regina was talking to the Lord, she thought it best to put the stress of the day aside and made a surprise visit with flowers to an elderly friend at a care center. Her spirits lifted as Maria shared how good the Lord was to her. She said, "I have my own bed and a chair, three meals a day, and help from the nurses here. And occasionally God sends a cardinal to my window just because He knows I love them and He loves me."
Attitude. Perspective. As the saying goes, "Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it." The people James wrote to were scattered because of persecution, and he asked them to consider their perspective about difficulties. He challenged them with these words: “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
We are each on our own journey of learning to trust God with hard circumstances. The kind of joy-filled perspective James talked about comes as we learn to see that God can use struggles to produce maturity in our faith.
Would you like to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude? George Herbert, 17th-century British poet, encourages readers toward that goal in his poem, Gratefulness: “Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more: a grateful heart.”
Herbert recognizes the only thing he needs in order to be thankful is simply an awareness of the blessings God has already given him.
The Bible declares Christ Jesus as the source of all blessing in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and for him are all things.” “All things” encompasses both the extravagant but also the mundane, everyday gifts in our lives. Everything we receive in life comes directly from our heavenly Father (James 1:17), and He willingly gives us those gifts out of His love for us.
To expand my awareness of God’s blessings in my life, I am learning to cultivate a heart that acknowledges the source of all the joys I experience each day, but especially the ones I often take for granted. Today those included a crisp morning to run, the anticipation of an evening with friends, a stocked pantry so I could make French toast with my daughters, the beauty of autumn colors outside my window, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
What is the “so much” that God has already given to you? Opening our eyes to those blessings will help us to develop grateful hearts.
At the end of the year, the burden of tasks uncompleted can weigh us down. Responsibilities at home and work may seem never-ending, and those unfinished today roll into tomorrow. But there are times in our journey of faith when we should pause and celebrate God’s faithfulness and the tasks completed.
After the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, “they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed” (Acts 14:26). While much work remained in sharing the message of Jesus with others, they took time to give thanks for what had been done. “They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (v. 27).
What has God done through you during the past year? How has He opened the door of faith for someone you know and love? In ways we can’t imagine, He is at work through us in tasks that may seem insignificant or incomplete.
When we feel painfully aware of our unfinished tasks in serving the Lord, let’s not forget to give thanks for the ways He has worked through us. Rejoicing over what God has done by His grace sets the stage for what is to come!
When I was a new believer in Jesus, a spiritual mentor encouraged me to keep a thanksgiving journal. It was a little booklet I carried with me everywhere I went. Sometimes I would record a thanksgiving right away. Other times, I would pen it at the end of the week during a time of reflection.
Taking note of praise items is a good habit—one I’m considering re-establishing in my life. It would help me to be mindful of God’s presence and grateful for His provision and care.
In the shortest of all the psalms, Psalm 117, the writer encourages everyone to praise the Lord because “great is his love toward us” (v. 2).
Think about it: How has the Lord shown His love toward you today, this week, month, and year? Don’t just look for the spectacular. His love is seen in the ordinary, everyday circumstances of life. Next, consider how He has shown His love toward your family, your church, and to others. Let your mind soak up the extent of His love for all of us.
The psalmist added that “the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever” (v. 2, emphasis added). In other words, He will continue to love us! So we will continue to have many things to praise God for in the coming days. As His dearly loved children, may praising and thanking God characterize our lives!
Several thousand years ago, God spoke directly to Moses and instituted a new festival for His people. In Exodus 23:16, according to Moses’s record, God said, “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.”
Today countries around the world do something similar by celebrating the land’s bounty. In Ghana, the people celebrate the Yam Festival as a harvest event. In Brazil, Dia de Acao de Gracas is a time to be grateful for the crops that yielded their food. In China, there is the Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival. In the United States and Canada: Thanksgiving.
To understand the fitting goal of a harvest celebration, we visit Noah right after the flood. God reminded Noah and his family—and us—of His provision for our flourishing existence on the earth. Earth would have seasons, daylight and darkness—and “seedtime and harvest” (Genesis 8:22). Our gratitude for the harvest, which sustains us, goes to God alone.
No matter where you live or how you celebrate your land’s bounty, take time today to express gratitude to God—for we would have no harvest to celebrate without His grand creative design.
Back when I was searching for a church to attend regularly, a friend invited me to a service at her church. The worship leaders led the congregation in a song I particularly loved. So I sang with gusto, remembering my college choir director’s advice to “Project!”
After the song, my friend’s husband turned to me and said, “You really sang loud.” This remark was not intended as a compliment! After that, I self-consciously monitored my singing, making sure I sang softer than those around me, and always wondering if the people around me judged my singing.
But one Sunday, I noticed the singing of a woman in the pew beside me. She seemed to sing with adoration, without a trace of self-consciousness. Her worship reminded me of the enthusiastic, spontaneous worship that David demonstrated in his life. In Psalm 98, in fact, David suggests that “all the earth” should “burst into jubilant song” in worship (v. 4).
Verse one of Psalm 98 tells us why we should worship joyfully, reminding us that “[God] has done marvelous things.” Throughout the psalm, David recounts these marvelous things: God’s faithfulness and justice to all nations, His mercy, and salvation. Dwelling on who God is and what He’s done can fill our hearts with praise.
What “marvelous things” has God done in your life? Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recall His wondrous works and give God thanks. Lift your voice and sing!
In Australia, it can take hours to drive between towns and fatigue can lead to accidents. So at busy holiday times rest stops are set up on major highways with volunteers offering free coffee. My wife, Merryn, and I grew to enjoy these stops during our long drives there.
On one trip, we pulled in and walked over to order our coffee. An attendant handed the two cups over, and then asked me for two dollars. I asked why. She pointed to the small print on the sign—at this stop, only the driver got free coffee; you had to pay for passengers. Annoyed, I told her this was false advertising, paid the two dollars, and walked off. Back at the car, Merryn pointed out my error: I had turned a gift into an entitlement and become ungrateful for what I received. She was right.
When Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he urged them to be a grateful people (Deut. 8:10). Thanks to the blessings of God, the land was abundant; but they could easily treat this prosperity as something they deserved (vv. 17–18). From this, the Jews developed a practice of giving thanks for every meal, no matter how small. For them, it was all a gift.
I went back to the woman and apologized. A free cup of coffee was a gift I didn’t deserve—and something for which to be thankful.
I gladly agreed to babysit my grandkids while their parents went out for the evening. After hugs, I asked the boys what they did over the weekend. (Both had separate adventures.) Bridger, age three, recounted breathlessly how he got to stay overnight with his aunt and uncle—and he had ice cream and rode a carousel and watched a movie! Next it was five-year-old Samuel’s turn. When asked what he did, he said, “Camping.” “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Not so much,” he answered forlornly.
The prophet Samuel experienced the age-old feeling of jealousy. He forgot how much fun he had camping with his dad when he heard his brother excitedly tell about his weekend.
All of us can fall prey to jealousy. King Saul gave in to the green-eyed monster of jealousy when the praise David received exceeded his: “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” (1 Sam. 18:7). Saul was outraged and “from that time . . . kept a jealous eye on David” (v. 9 NLT). He was so incensed he tried to kill David!
The comparison game is foolish and self-destructive. Someone will always have something we don’t or enjoy experiences different from ours. But God has already given us many blessings, including both life on this earth for all and the promise of eternal life to all who believe. Depending on His help and focusing on Him in thankfulness can help us to overcome jealousy.