French artist Henri Matisse felt his work in the last years of his life best represented him. During that time he experimented with a new style, creating colorful, large-scale pictures with paper instead of paint. He decorated the walls of his room with these bright images. This was important to him because he had been diagnosed with cancer and was often confined to his bed.
Becoming ill, losing a job, or enduring heartbreak are examples of what some call “being in the valley,” where dread overshadows everything else. The people of Judah experienced this when they heard an invading army was approaching (2 Chron. 20:2–3). Their king prayed, “If calamity comes . . . [we] will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us” (v. 9). God responded, “Go out to face [your enemies] tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (v. 17).
When Judah’s army arrived at the battlefield, their enemies had already destroyed each other. God’s people spent three days collecting the abandoned equipment, clothing, and valuables. Before leaving, they assembled to praise God and named the place “The Valley of Berakah,” which means “blessing.”
God walks with us through the lowest points in our lives. He can make it possible to discover blessings in the valleys.
Perhaps you’ve seen the TV ad in which a person answers the door and finds someone who hands over a check for an enormous amount of money. Then the amazed recipient begins shouting, dancing, jumping, and hugging everyone in sight. “I won! I’m rich! I can’t believe it! My problems are solved!” Striking it rich evokes a great emotional response.
In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, we find this remarkable statement: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (v. 14). What a comparison! Obeying God’s instructions for living can be just as exhilarating as receiving a fortune! Verse 16 repeats this refrain as the psalmist expresses grateful gladness for the Lord’s commands. “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
But what if we don’t feel that way? How can delighting in God’s instructions for living be just as exhilarating as receiving a fortune? It all begins with gratitude, which is both an attitude and a choice. We pay attention to what we value, so we begin by expressing our gratitude for those gifts of God that nourish our souls. We ask Him to open our eyes to see the storehouse of wisdom, knowledge, and peace He has given us in His Word.
As our love for Jesus grows each day, we indeed strike it rich!
Every autumn we throw a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast on campus at Cornerstone University. Our students love it! Last year a group of students played a game at their table. They challenged each other to name something they were thankful for—in three seconds or less—without repeating what someone else had said. Anyone who got stymied was out of the game.
There are all kinds of things that students might gripe about—tests, deadlines, rules, and a host of other college-type complaints. But these students had chosen to be thankful. And my guess is that they all felt a lot better after the game than they would have if they had chosen to complain.
While there will always be things to complain about, if we look carefully there are always blessings to be thankful for. When Paul describes our newness in Christ, “thankfulness” is the only characteristic mentioned more than once. In fact it is mentioned three times. “Be thankful,” he says in Colossians 3:15. Sing to God “with gratitude in your hearts” (v. 16). And whatever you do, be sure to be “giving thanks to God the Father” (v. 17). Paul’s instruction to be thankful is astonishing when we consider that he wrote this letter from prison!
Today, let’s make the choice to have an attitude of thankfulness.
Thomas J. DeLong, a professor at Harvard Business School, has noted a disturbing trend among his students and colleagues—a “comparison obsession." He writes: “More so than ever before, . . . business executives, Wall Street analysts, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. . . . This is bad for individuals and bad for companies—when you define success based on external rather than internal criteria, you diminish your satisfaction and commitment.”
Comparison obsession isn’t new. The Scriptures warn us of the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. When we do so, we become proud and look down on them (Luke 18:9–14). Or we become jealous and want to be like them or have what they have (James 4:1). We fail to focus on what God has given us to do. Jesus intimated that comparison obsession comes from believing that God is unfair and that He doesn’t have a right to be more generous to others than He is to us (Matt. 20:1–16).
By God’s grace we can learn to overcome comparison obsession by focusing on the life God has given to us. As we take moments to thank God for everyday blessings, we change our thinking and begin to believe deep down that God is good.
When our kids were young, one of them bluntly said “no” when we passed him some peas for dinner. To which we replied, “No what?” We hoped he would say, “No, thank you.” Instead he said, “No peas!” That led to a discussion about the importance of good manners. In fact, we had similar discussions on numerous occasions.
Beyond good manners—which are external—our Lord reminds us that we are to have a heart of gratitude. Scripture contains dozens of reminders that expressing gratitude is of primary importance in our relationship with God. Psalm 118 begins and ends with the exhortation to “give thanks to the Lord” (vv. 1, 29). We are to give thanks when we come into His presence (100:4). And the requests we bring to Him are to be wrapped in a spirit of thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6). Such an attitude of gratitude will help us remember our abundant blessings. Even in the midst of trouble and despair, God’s presence and love are our constant companions.
It’s no wonder, then, that the psalmist reminds us to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 118:1).
Lee Geysbeek of Compassion International told about a woman who had the opportunity to travel to a distant land to visit the child she sponsored. She decided to take the child, who was living in abject poverty, to a restaurant.
I’m grateful that God has given us the sense of smell so we can enjoy the many fragrances of life. I think of how much I enjoy something as simple as the fresh and inviting aroma of after-shave lotion in the morning. Or the mellow smell of fresh-cut grass in the spring. I especially enjoy sitting in the backyard when the delicate scent of my favorite roses fills the air. And then there are the savory aromas of delicious food.
Drew, young and enthusiastic, was leading the singing for the first time in a large church. Lois, a long-time attender, wanted to encourage him, but she thought it would be too difficult to get to the front of the church before he left. But then she saw a way to snake through the crowd. Lois told Drew, “I appreciate your enthusiasm in worship. Keep serving Him!”
In the weeks after my husband survived a heart attack, we often thanked God for sparing his life. I was asked many times during the next few months how I was doing. My answer was often a simple one: “Blessed. I feel blessed.”