When was the last time you were discouraged or discontented? What did you do with your feelings of frustration? Yell at someone? Withdraw in silence? Talk to a friend? Ask for help?
What about give thanks?
Yeah, right! (I hear your sigh.)
Often times, the last thing we think about when facing our own discouragement is to give thanks. We do all kinds of things to cope with our depressing feelings, and sometimes without success. We become hyper-focused on the struggles of the moment. Our self-focus can further complicate our troubles, and result in a “pity party” or “woe is me” complex. We forget the long-term perspective, that good can come from trials, especially for the believer in Jesus. “All things work together for good for those who love Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:28
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16
We are commanded by Scripture to give thanks. Notice how this 1 Thessalonians passage does not say to be thankful when we feel like it or when life is going well. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate. Lest you think I view Christianity only as a list of do’s and don’ts, let me propose that being thankful in the midst of hard circumstances is beneficial and therapeutic for us. I believe God gave us commands for our good. When we give thanks, we are enhancing our mental, physical, and spiritual health. We are living within the Creator’s purpose and design.
The Benefits of Being Thankful
I propose to you this Thanksgiving, that being thankful is not just about saying “thank you” for our homes, food, families, and friends. Although, it is that too! Thanksgiving in the full Biblical sense, is thanking God for all circumstances, good and bad. It’s demonstrating our faith in God’s loving care. “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
Being thankful in ALL circumstances brings benefits for us! What are they?
- Thankfulness produces humility. It helps us realize that the world and its happenings are bigger than us. Life on earth does not revolve around my needs or desires.
- Thankfulness demonstrates our need for others. When giving thanks, you direct your thankfulness to someone else, whether it be God himself, or another human. We need God and each other!
- Thankfulness reminds us how blessed we are! Look around and see the abundance we enjoy. I may not be rich in monetary means (according to American standards), but I am rich in blessings! Don’t compare your wealth to the wealth of others; just be thankful for what you have.
- Thankfulness pulls us out of our selfishness to see people’s needs. Why does charitable giving increase during the holiday season? People look beyond themselves and view the vast opportunities to meet the needs of others.
- Thankfulness brings peace that passes understanding. When I’m thankful, I’m not anxious for what I don’t have. I have peace. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6, 7
- Thankfulness gives us contentment. It relinquishes the control we crave. We stop striving and find rest. “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
I love this Psalm on contentment. It’s only three verses. I encourage you to memorize it and insert your name in the last line. Even though the author does not mention thankfulness specifically, I believe his heart attitude is one of great thanks as he experiences God’s life-giving peace.
“O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel (your name here!), hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever.” Psalm 131
How Do I Practice Thankfulness?
Being thankful takes practice. It’s not something that comes naturally to us humans. You and I have to be intentional if we want to increase our harvest of thanksgiving.
- Practice thankfulness in prayer. When you pray, remember to be thankful! Instead of jumping right into supplication (or prayer requests), slow down and thank God what you are thankful for. Occasionally, offer thanksgiving-only prayers without bringing up your own needs.
- Practice thankfulness with people. When was the last time you said thank you to your children? Your spouse? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your boss? Speak out loud, so they can hear you give thanks. Hopefully, your contagious attitude of thanksgiving will spread in your family and workplace.
- Practice thankfulness on paper. When journaling, writing a personal card, or sending an email, include expressions of thanks.
- Practice thankfulness in gift giving. A few years ago when I was financially broke and could not purchase Christmas gifts, I placed 365 ways I was thankful for my parents in a tall glass jar, where they could uncover a new note of thanks each day of the year. To this day, they tell me it was one of the most thoughtful gifts they ever received from me. When giving gifts, think of creative ways you can be thankful for your loved ones.
- Practice thankfulness daily! This is important. We cannot create habits without practicing over and over. Learning to be thankful is no different. In writing this post, I’ve realized I can go several days without being truly thankful. If you and I are going to be more thankful, we must practice all the time, day in and day out, continually.
- Practice thankfulness in all circumstances. As stated before, being thankful in all things not only displays submission and self-sacrifice, but also brings healing to our mind and body.
Allow me to correct a possible misconception. I do not believe practicing thankfulness will relieve your troubles. God does not promise to take away our suffering in this life. (I realize your suffering is real!) That’s why we look forward to heaven! But God does promise to comfort us in our time of trouble. He is always near.
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5, 6
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39
We offer thanks because it’s an act of unselfishness, not because we want something from God or people. Giving thanks is just what the verb says – giving! The very definition embraces giving without expecting something in return. Your struggles may not end, but your anxiety will lessen. As you rehearse habits of thankfulness, you will experience more contentment. Who doesn’t want contentment?
I pray that God will give you faith in proclaiming your thankfulness in all ways.
How will you practice your deeper understanding of thankfulness?
“O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
1 Chronicles 16:34