It’s the time of year that we think about Thanksgiving, with turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings. On good days, we might even remember to take time to give thanks. After all, we have much to be thankful for. Besides, God said,
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High” (Psalm 92:1 NASB).
I’m grateful for a season where we are reminded to give thanks and praises to our God. It’s good to have an annual reminder because it’s easy to become lax and take our blessings for granted. In addition, too often trials in life steal our gratefulness. It’s good to be reminded.
I recently had a trial that taught me benefits of being grateful. In the midst of a struggle, I found myself on edge and easily angered for weeks.
The problem started when I got a new computer. I had more than my share of frustrations dealing with the new system. Stress was heightened because I was trying to finish a book and standardize its layout.
Every day I encountered several challenges and spent half my time trying to solve computer problems rather than accomplishing my goal. The days of aggravation turned to weeks, and I became more and more frustrated.
One day, I was ready to throw the thing out the window, when a quiet inner voice said, “You’re not very grateful for your computer, are you?”
I thought, “Of course I’m grateful. I work on the computer all the time. I’ll take a computer over a typewriter any day. I’m glad I can delete, copy and paste, and move things around. Besides, my old computer was dying. I’m grateful I could get a new one.”
“Grateful?” echoed the little voice.
“Well, I’m grateful when it acts like I want it to … sometimes I’m grateful.”
I finally relented. I wasn’t grateful. Indeed, I was ready to throw my computer out the window.
The more I thought about how my computer facilitates communication and how much I rely on it, the more grateful I was. As I became grateful, frustration and turmoil were replaced with calm.
It didn’t solve my problems. I continued to have issues where my new computer didn’t work like I expected. I still had to learn the new system. But the change was like night and day.
When I was grateful instead of angry, my insides didn’t go into knots when I ran into challenges. My mind didn’t freeze and my emotions didn’t flare. Instead, I was able to look at the problem calmly and find a solution. Because of the change in me, it seemed that my computer quit giving me problems.
The trouble was in my heart. When I got my heart straightened out, my brain and emotions didn’t short-circuit with anger. Consequently, I was able to work through challenges in much shorter time.
My frustration with my new computer was minor compared to many problems we all face. However, God tells us,
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB).
Whatever we face, when we give God thanks in the midst of the problem, it aligns our hearts with His. In addition, it opens our hearts so we can receive His grace to walk through it.
“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15 NASB).
When it is hardest to give thanks, it is probably the time we most need to give it.
Have a blessed Thanks-giving.
How to Have a Thankful Heart Through Difficult Times
by Veronica Neffinger, crosswalk.com
“For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:15-16)
Colorful, feather-shaped pieces of construction paper sit on the kitchen table, along with cut-outs of turkey-shaped bodies and body parts–beak, feet, etc. My mother brings over the magic markers and we are ready to begin making our yearly Thanksgiving turkeys.
This was a tradition my mother started when I was very young, and we participated every year that I remember until I left for college. We would assemble our turkeys and then write one thing we were thankful for on each feather.
Looking back, I remember it being so simple, especially in the early years: family, friends, pets, God, food, a warm house. In high school things became a bit more theological, but yet they still flowed fairly easily off my pen: salvation, God’s mercy, spiritual mentors.
Holiday traditions like these are fun. They build memories and focus on the blessings of life; but sometimes, especially as adults, it is harder to easily list what we are thankful for. Either it seems too cliche, or we can find it difficult to be sincere about our thankfulness when perhaps times are very hard.
My Thanksgivings after high school have been much less carefree. Adult thoughts of school, jobs, finances, and traveling can weigh heavy on us even as we attempt to drum up feelings of thankfulness on its namesake holiday.
Crosswalk.com contributor Debra Fileta shares her story of recognizing that Thanksgiving is about more than merely lisiting your blessings. “What if being thankful meant surrendering our struggles, too?” she asks.
“I am proclaiming right now that in times of suffering, a heart of gratitude means more than just saying ‘thank you,’” Fileta says. It means believing that God is who he says he is. Believing that he is good, that he is love, and that he is for me. Believing that he never changes, that he never fails, and that he is working all things for what is good.”
God understands that thankfulness is not always (or usually) a gut-reaction for us. Even Jesus struggled to thankfully accept God’s Plan of salvation while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, preparing to go through the agony of the cross.
“‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him,” Luke 22:42-42 records.
This passage tells us two things:
First, there is value in going through the motions even if the feelings aren’t there. Choosing to thank God even if you don’t feel like it and are actually more stressed than thankful can be an important first step in having your heart opened to true gratitude.
Secondly, the passage says angels ministered to Christ and helped strengthen Him for what he was about to undergo. We have someone even better than God’s entire host of angels to aid us–Jesus Himself.
Though life may bring us trials, we are not alone. And though offering up thanksgiving in the midst of those trials may be a sacrifice, it is a rewarding one.
“When I look at those pieces of my life that look overwhelmingly difficult or disappointing and can thank God for whatever good He plans to bring out of them, I am offering a sacrifice of praise,” says Crosswalk.com conributor April Motl. “When I can entrust what looks like something that is broken beyond repair to my heavenly Father’s goodness and love, I am offering a sacrifice of praise.”
This world and the life we live in it is often a thankfulness-stealer. But in Christ, we know that we can “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) because the trials and hard times are not a test, but another reason to trust God who is working all for our good and has already given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving … He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.” – Psalm 50:14, 23 NASB
The Bible reminds us of why it is important to be thankful. A spirit of thankfulness changes our attitude toward everything. It demonstrates that we recognize all God has done for us. We are thankful for how He has transformed our lives. We are thankful for His Word and His Spirit. We are thankful for salvation and eternal life. We are thankful for the joy of knowing Him and His peace.
If we want to be victorious, we need to be thankful in all circumstances. Thankfulness is an important way we honor and praise Him. This shows that we don’t take Him for granted, and we appreciate all He has done. When we offer thanks, we prepare our hearts to receive more blessings.
The sacrifices of thanksgiving are even more meaningful. These acts cost us something. Because they are sacrifices, it means that we have other options. We could focus on our pleasures and ourselves. Instead, we choose to give up something to honor God. This kind of sacrifice shows that we value Him and place Him first in our lives.
Think of all the reasons for being thankful to God. Allow your heart to be filled with thanks. Thank Him with your voice. Be willing to offer sacrifices to Him. Do something that costs you something. Do it joyfully. Willingly. And demonstrate your thankfulness by dedicating your time, talents, and treasures to Him.
Encouragement for Today
Kay W. Camenisch, author, crosswalk.com
“I can’t wait to get a gumball! And I promise, mom, I’m going to be happy with whatever color I get!”
My daughter’s big, blue eyes sparkled as we headed into our favorite pizza restaurant — one with a gigantic, old-school gumball machine. Try as they might, my children were unsuccessful in controlling what color that bright-red machine spit out, which regularly led to epic meltdowns.
But on this day, I was pleasantly surprised by my daughter’s resolve to avoid such a meltdown and gratefully accept whatever color she got. And, when a shiny blue treat wound its way down, she did indeed happily accept it and start chomping away.
All was calm … until her little sister’s quarter produced the prized and highly coveted reward among little girls: a glistening, pink gumball.
Cue the water works. As my youngest danced with glee, her big sister wailed like her heart might break in two: “But I wanted piiiiiink!”
I spent the next 30 minutes consoling her while also concealing the frustration I felt. Wasn’t it just a gumball? But on the quiet ride home, the Lord spoke deeply to my heart: When it comes down to it, you’re really no different.
For isn’t this just like us? We’re content and grateful … until we start looking around. We give thanks for what we have … until we scroll social media and see what others have. Suddenly, our “gumball” doesn’t look so appealing.
Comparison begins its ugly churn inside our hearts. We start thinking life would be a whole lot better if only we had her job, marriage, children, house, looks, etc. Before we know it, we too are wailing about what someone else has.
The Gospel of John records a similar situation among Jesus’ disciples. In Chapter 21, we see Jesus reinstate Peter by granting him a fresh commission after he’d tragically denied his Savior.
The bad news was this commission came with a less-than-desirable ending: While Peter would have an incredible, decades-long ministry, he would ultimately follow in his Savior’s footsteps and experience death on a cross.
In our key verse, we see Peter comparing his lot to those around him. Even though Peter had been given the steadfast love and forgiveness of his Savior and the promise of a fruitful ministry, he honed in on the fate of John, the “beloved” disciple:
“When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’” (John 21:21-22).
Ouch. In His gentle yet unwavering way, Jesus directed Peter’s gaze and gratitude back to Himself. He gave Peter the reminder we desperately need, too: God’s job is being God. Our job is faithfully following Him on the path before us — bumps and all.
When we, like Peter, take our eyes off Jesus and focus on the gifts we see others receiving, we fall smack into the enemy’s trap. Like my young daughter, we lose sight of the good and gracious gifts God has given us. Instead, we begin believing the lie that everyone else has it better.
Dear one, God is unflinchingly good to each and every one of His children. He is not unjust, unkind or prone to favoritism. We must let Him be God while we simply follow after Him with a grateful, trusting heart.
The difficult but liberating truth is it’s irrelevant what color “gumball” someone else has. Keeping our gratitude vertical sets us on a path of peace and contentment.
Today, let’s fix our gaze on our loving, generous Father and lift up praise for all He has done. Let’s cling to the truth that, “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9, NIV).
There is so much to be grateful for if we have eyes to see it.