How To Know If You Are Thankful
What’s the first thing which comes to mind when you think of November? For me, it’s Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is filled with grand memories of family together and fabulous meals. As I have come to look at life from a longer perspective, it seems that it was easier to celebrate Thanksgiving than to be truly thankful. Thanksgiving was never intended to be a one-day holiday, but rather, a pause from life to express together thanks for the blessings which are ours throughout the year. As people more prone to selfish interests than gratitude, real thanksgiving is an intentional act more than a natural occurrence, unless we have trained our hearts.
That’s where this unique passage from the pen of Paul comes in. He said, “Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:16-17). His words challenge me. How do I give thanks “in everything?” What exactly does Paul mean?
I was helped along the way when I realized that God does not intend for us to be thankful “for” everything that happens, but He does expect us to be thankful “in” everything that happens.
What’s the difference? Maybe these simple comparisons can help in seeing the contrast Paul has in mind.
• When you’re involved in a car accident – You don’t thank God for the accident, you thank Him that you weren’t hurt more severely.
• When you break your leg – You don’t thank God for the broken leg, you thank Him for pain medicine and physicians to fix your leg.
• When you have dirty dishes – You don’t thank God for the opportunity to wash dishes, you thank Him that you have food to eat.
If we unpack further what Paul is saying, perhaps we could understand it under three headings.
One is prayer. To the Philippians Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything: instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Instead of worrying, he prayed and trusted God. It seems to me that people complain more and pray less. It’s hard to be truly thankful and grumpy at the same time. I have found praying people to be optimistic people. One of the ways to know if you are thankful is to measure your prayer life. Do you spend more time worrying than praying? Have you thanked God for what He has already done in your life?
A second is perspective. One day a TV reporter asked a mason, "How do you like your job? I hate it, he said. It’s the most boring job in the world." That same reporter asked another mason on the other side of the building the same question. "Oh it’s great because I see myself building an architectural masterpiece." Here are two men in the same situation, but with two very different perspectives.
Paul put his emotional, mental and spiritual focus on the good things He had in Christ. It would have been easy for Paul to feel sorry for himself. The Jews sought to put him to death. The Romans hunted him like a dog and imprisoned him with chains. Even his best friends deserted him, yet he gave thanks for every situation because He knew God is in control of whatever might happen to him. Paul thanked God in every situation because he knew that God could use it to bring greater maturity, wisdom and usefulness. Paul saw every hardship as a catalyst for developing great Godly character, wisdom and holiness.
A third is priority. One of the great lessons of life to learn is that happiness is always a bi-product of something else, not a goal to seek for itself. People who spend their life trying to be happy fail miserably. Those who find purpose and meaning combined with a proper work ethic discover happiness and fulfilment.
The problem with learning to be thankful for many is that it is associated primarily with material things or easy living. Paul defined it as an attitude about all circumstances, not just those which seem fortunate. It’s possible to be thankful if you haven’t gotten a promotion, if you have faced hardship or have a child who is ill.
A father whose job took him away from home often and carried heavy responsibilities finally got time to take his family on a vacation. He decided to go camping to a remote area where there was plenty of recreation and relaxation. All went well the first day or two as they enjoyed the beauty of nature and fun of being together. By the next day his son was bored and said, “Daddy, I’d like camping a lot more if we could have our house and television.”
We have become so used to things that we consider them essential to the enjoyment of life. I’m afraid we have forgotten how glorious it is to be alive, to love and to be loved, to serve, to be healthy, to have friends and most of all, to fellowship with our Heavenly Father.
Someone said, “To have faith on a full stomach may be just contentment. Faith on an empty stomach is whole different matter.
You will be blessed to meditate on what Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, – II Corinthians 6:10 – “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (II Cor. 6:10). Happiness comes not from “things” and “circumstances”. True joy comes only from the Lord. People with joy in their heart are thankful people. Someone said, “If we are not thankful for what we have, we will not be grateful for what we do not have yet.”
So how do you know you are thankful? Let me ask a few simple questions. Which do you tend to talk about more…your blessings, or your disappointments? Are you a complainer, always grumbling, always finding fault with your circumstances? Are you content with what you have, or always dissatisfied and wanting more? Do you find it easier to count your blessings, or is it easier to count your afflictions? Do you express thanks to others when they help you, or do you just see it as their duty?
Being thankful isn’t really hard, but it does take practice. It works best when bathed in prayer, bolstered with a healthy perspective on life and blessed with priorities which lead to happiness.
While it is a little long to print here, let me suggest those of you with internet access read the poem, “Forgive Me When I Whine” by Latif Jan Afridi. I think you will find it a helpful reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about.
Finally, have you noticed how Thanksgiving is associated with Christian faith? It is the Bible which reminds us of the importance of being thankful. Real gratitude ultimately rests in recognition of the author of life and blessings. Imagine this, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is thankful and has no God to thank.” What if after one of life’s great experiences we had no God to thank? How wonderful it is that we do have a Heavenly Father from whom all blessings flow!”