I enjoy walking and hiking. I go often! I typically enjoy listening to music in one ear as I walk when I’m alone. It helps me to keep a quick pace, and helps to distract my thoughts from my cares, and also from how tired my legs are getting as I go! As I started out yesterday, I had a sense that I needed to hold off on the music, and pray. It seems these days, that there is so much to pray about. Covid 19, unrest in our country, personal needs of family, health needs of family, as well as friends, ministry opportunities, work, and the list goes on.
As I started my walk, almost immediately, it came to me that I needed to first spend some time praising God and being thankful for what He has already provided, instead of jumping right into prayers of petition, or asking. I recalled the story in Luke chapter 17, where Jesus heals ten lepers of their horrible skin disease. They all run away ecstatic over their fresh skin, rejoicing in the newness of it! But only one returns to thank Jesus for the gift of healing. Scripture says that he threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked Him. And Jesus responded, “rise and go, your faith has made you well.” Powerful words. The story of this account is here as a lesson for us. God desires our thankfulness.
I have been guilty at times, of asking God to help me, or fix something, before I stop to praise Him and be thankful for what He has already done in my life. Have you ever been guilty of that? I think most of us have. So how do we address that struggle?
Let’s talk about cultivating a thankful heart, a heart that is grateful, a heart that recognizes all God does.
Psalm 118:29 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”
If you were to take some time and do a search for scriptures that address being thankful and thankfulness, you would find an enormous list. And because scripture addresses thankfulness so much, it is safe to say that it is something important that we should look at.
2 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Many things happen when we are thankful.
First, being thankful helps me to remember all that God has already done, and all that I already have. Essentially, expressing thanfulness takes my eyes off of myself long enough to be appreciative of God’s provision, and the gifts that He has already graciously provided to me.
Another thing that occurs when I express thankfulness, is that it helps me to sense God’s presence in my life. As I am thankful, I remember that God is the giver of all good things. 1 Chronicles 16:11-12 “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights…”. It isn’t just me, pulling myself up by my bootstraps. It’s God, gifting me with good things, like a good father does for his children. When I realize all the goodness in my life, and I remember where those things came from, I have an overwhelming sense of God’s presence.
Being thankful also halts my grumbling. When I spend time being thankful and expressing it to the Lord, I realize that I have more to be glad about, than I do to complain over. Thankfulness and negative thoughts can’t occupy the same space in my heart. There’s only room for one at a time. My pastor says this “Are you humbly grateful, or grumbly hateful?” Gratitude gives us peace.
Have you heard of The Law of Diminishing Return? I don’t know if it’s a real law of nature or not, but I do know it’s a real thing in the human condition. Basically, this law says that the more we get, the more we want. I’m sure you can recall a time when you wanted something newer, nicer, bigger, or better for yourself or your family. You may have saved, waited, ordered, and stalked the UPS man until “it” arrived! It’s so exciting to finally receive something that you have been anxiously anticipating! But generally, it isn’t long after “it” arrives, that we start dreaming of the next thing. The next order. The next shipment. The next newer, nicer, bigger, better. It’s human nature, it’s how we just are. We have to really fight to be content.
Being thankful can also bring contentment. Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” If we aren’t thankful for what He has already given us, getting more won’t satisfy us either. When I am thankful, I am more apt to realize and appreciate the things (material and situational) that are already mine. It is good for me to remember all that I already have.
Being thankful can deepen our faith. The practice of thankfulness gives me a fresh perspective on all the times that God has come through for me in the past. When I am able to look back, and recall His faithfulness to me in the past, I rest easier, trusting that He will provide for me (physically and situationally) in the present as well. This practice can also help me guard against feelings of envy toward others, when I feel that they have things or circumstances that are nicer, newer, bigger and better than what I have.
As I continued my walk that day, what I thought might be a brief time of expressing gratitude to God, turned out to be a much longer amount of time than I thought. Before I realized it, I had walked about 30 minutes just thanking Him for the many blessings in my life. I have much to be thankful for. While there are still many things in my life that I desire God to move on and change (for myself and others) I enjoyed the time of just thanking him. It was good for my soul!
I encourage you to do the same. Maybe even write out those things that you are thankful for. Those things that God has blessed you with. Seeing a long list of things that we have not intentionally attributed to God, and thanking Him for them, is very encouraging! It’s like the difference between walking through an overcast gray day, where the sky is full of the soft gray clouds that won’t let the sunlight in. It’s not dark, but it is dreary. Then, suddenly, the sunlight pierces through the clouds and shines down on your path! You are able to see the color in the flowers, and the beauty of your surroundings. The beauty was there before, but the gray day cast a dull shadow over everything. Now that the sunlight has made it’s way to you, you are better able to see better what has been there the whole time!
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In the world we live in, it is much easier to complain than it is to be thankful. It’s almost second nature. But as believers, we are called to be different. By intentionally looking for things to be thankful for, and then in turn, expressing that thankfulness to the Lord, we are choosing to see beyond ourselves. We are choosing a posture of gratitude. One way for us to fully experience the presence of God in our lives is to live with a spirit of thankfulness!
That’s something we can easily shift to and strive for!