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.
My friend Gloria called with excitement in her voice. She had not been able to leave her home except for doctors’ appointments. So I understood why she was so happy to tell me, “My son just attached new speakers to my computer, so now I can go to my church!” Now she could hear the live broadcast of her church’s worship service. She raved about God’s goodness and the “best gift my son could have given me!”
Gloria teaches me about having a thankful heart. Despite her many limitations, she’s thankful for the smallest of things—sunsets, helpful family and neighbors, quiet moments with God, the ability to remain in her own apartment. She’s had a lifetime of seeing God provide for her, and she talks about Him to anyone who visits or calls.
We don’t know what difficulties the author of Psalm 116 was encountering. Some Bible commentaries say it was probably sickness because he said, “the cords of death entangled me” (v. 3). But he gave thanks to the Lord for being gracious and full of compassion when he was “brought low” (vv. 5–6).
When we’re low, it can be hard to look up. Yet if we do, we see that God is the giver of all good gifts in our life—great and small—and we learn to give Him thanks.
I came across a solitary flower growing in a meadow today—a tiny purple blossom “wasting its sweetness in the desert air,” to borrow from the poet Thomas Gray’s wonderful line. I’m sure no one had seen this particular flower before, and perhaps no one will see it again. Why this beauty in this place? I thought.
Nature is never wasted. It daily displays the truth, goodness, and beauty of the One who brought it into being. Every day, nature offers a new and fresh declaration of God’s glory. Do I see Him through that beauty, or do I merely glance at it and shrug it off in indifference?
All nature declares the beauty of the One who made it. Our response can be worship, adoration, and thanksgiving—for the radiance of a cornflower, the splendor of a morning sunrise, the symmetry of one particular tree.
Author C. S. Lewis describes a walk in the forest on a hot summer day. He had just asked his friend how best to cultivate a heart thankful toward God. His hiking companion turned to a nearby brook, splashed his face and hands in a little waterfall, and asked, “Why not begin with this?” Lewis said he learned a great principle in that moment: “Begin where you are.”
A trickling waterfall, the wind in the willows, a baby robin, a tiny flower. Why not begin your thankfulness with this?
In our suburb we complain about the constant power outages. They can hit three times in a week and last up to twenty-four hours, plunging the neighborhood into darkness. The inconvenience is hard to bear when we cannot use basic household appliances.
Our Christian neighbor often asks, “Is this also something to thank God for?” She is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We always say, “Yes, of course, we thank God in all things.” But the half-hearted manner in which we say it is contradicted by our grumbling every time the power goes off.
One day, however, our belief in thanking God in all circumstances took on new meaning. I returned from work to find our neighbor visibly shaken as she cried, “Thank Jesus the power was off. My house would have burned down, and my family and I would have perished!”
A refuse-collection truck had hit the electricity pole in front of her house and brought down the high-tension cables right over several houses. Had there been power in the cables, fatalities would have been likely.
The difficult circumstances we face can make it hard to say, “Thanks, Lord.” We can be thankful to our God who sees in every situation an opportunity for us to trust Him—whether or not we see His purpose.
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.
Emily listened as a group of friends talked about their family Thanksgiving traditions. “We go around the room and each one tells what he or she is thankful to God for,” Gary said. Another mentioned the last Thanksgiving meal with his dad before he died and went to heaven: “Even though Dad had dementia, his prayer of thanks to the Lord was clear.” Randy shared, “My family has a special time of singing together on the holiday. My grandma goes on and on and on!” Emily’s sadness and jealousy grew as she thought of her own family, and she complained: “Our traditions are to eat turkey, watch television, and never mention anything about God or giving thanks.”
Right away Emily felt uneasy with her attitude. You are part of that family. What would you like to do differently to change the day? she asked herself. She decided she wanted to privately tell each person she was thankful to the Lord that they were her sister, niece, brother, or great-niece. When the day arrived, she expressed her thankfulness for them one by one, and they all felt loved. It wasn’t easy because it wasn’t normal conversation in her family, but she experienced joy as she shared her love for each of them.
“Let everything you say be good and helpful,” wrote the apostle Paul, “so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29 nlt). Our words of thanks can remind others of their value to us and to God.
My son is learning to count from 1 to 10. He counts everything from toys to trees. He counts things I tend to overlook, like the wildflowers on his way to school or the toes on my feet.
My son is also teaching me to count again. Often I become so immersed in things I haven’t finished or things I don’t have that I fail to see all the good things around me. I have forgotten to count the new friends made this year and the answered prayers received, the tears of joy shed and the times of laughter with good friends.
My ten fingers are not enough to count all that God gives me day by day. “Many,
Let us join David as he praises God for all His precious thoughts about us and all He has done for us, when he says, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (139:17-18).
Let’s learn to count again!
When I clean my house for a special event, I become discouraged because I think that guests won’t notice what I clean, only what I don't clean. This brings to mind a larger philosophical and spiritual question: Why do humans more quickly see what's wrong than what's right? We are more likely to remember rudeness than kindness. Crimes seem to receive more attention than acts of generosity. And disasters grab our attention more quickly than the profound beauty all around us.
But then I realize I am the same way with God. I tend to focus on what He hasn't done rather than on what He has, on what I don't have rather than on what I have, on the situations that He has not yet resolved rather than on the many He has.
When I read the book of Job, I am reminded that the Lord doesn't like this any more than I do. After years of experiencing prosperity, Job suffered a series of disasters. Suddenly those became the focus of his life and conversations. Finally, God intervened and asked Job some hard questions, reminding him of His sovereignty and of everything Job didn't know and hadn't seen (Job 38–40).
Whenever I start focusing on the negative, I hope I remember to stop, consider the life of Job, and take notice of all the wonders God has done and continues to do.