With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been giving some thought to the whole idea of giving thanks. The Pilgrims weren’t the first to suggest it. The Scriptures have always made it clear we are to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:18). Obviously, this was written long before there was a Pilgrim in sight. If it’s God’s will for us to give thanks, there must be more to it than we might first suspect.
At first glance, giving thanks is simply the opposite of being ungrateful. In general, our culture frowns on ungratefulness as being impolite. People who are not grateful, who never write thank you notes, or who fail to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of others are considered rude. Being ungrateful just isn’t done in polite society. Being referred to as “ungrateful” is definitely not a compliment, which means the opposite (being grateful) is considered a good thing in most circles.
But could it be there is more to giving thanks than just being polite? If being thankful is God’s will, as the Scriptures tell us, why is this so? Could it be our Creator and Master Designer knows something about what makes us tick that we don’t fully understand ourselves?
In the book of Galatians, we find a list of attributes known as the fruits of the Spirit. It’s worth pointing out—fruit can be cultivated. Maybe the reason it is God’s will for us to give thanks is because He knows that giving thanks stimulates the growth of fruit. Among those is the fruit of joy! Ultimately, giving thanks leads us to joy. It makes us happy. And who doesn’t want to be happy?
On a recent hiatus from work trying to stave off a cold, I spent part of my day flipping through magazines. In one of them I came across a health article about this very topic—happiness. In it the author suggested a number of tips for promoting the healthy state of being happy. The important thing, the article maintained, is to concentrate on the main ingredients of happiness, such as solid relationships, gratitude, and “that magical thing called hope.”
First, I was struck by the idea hope could be considered “magical.” I’m not sure why it’s so magical, unless of course you don’t know where your hope lies.
I also found it interesting the author was able to identify gratitude as an ingredient for happiness. It seems that secular psychiatrists are figuring out what God has known all along. Grateful people are healthier people. Their blood pressure is lower, their cholesterol is better, they suffer fewer heart attacks, and they just generally feel better than people who spend all their time griping and complaining instead of counting their blessings.
For us as believers who count our blessings and “name(s) them one by one” as the old song says, it follows that our thanksgiving will turn to praise. As we recognize what God has done for us and give Him thanks, we are filled with awe for who He is and His exceeding greatness. When we exalt and honor Him, our praises rise to Him as a sweet smelling offering.
Praise—true praise—has a way of getting God’s attention. There’s power in that. Our God inhabits the praises of His people. When we praise Him, it’s as though He bends down a little closer and says, “Ah, I like that. Bless your heart. Now what can I do for you, child? How can bless YOU?”
Getting God’s attention is a good thing—for us. Not so good for the enemy. For this reason he has a vested interest in keeping us from focusing on our blessings. His ploy is to keep us mired in the muck of our circumstances. Life is truly like a bed of roses. The roses are there, but so are the thorns and the fertilizer. The trick is to stay focused on the roses.
Sometimes when the conditions I’m in are crummy, I find myself gritting my teeth and announcing Psalm 34:1: I WILL bless the Lord at all times. His praise WILL continually be in my mouth. When I’m tempted to fall into despair or allow the weight of my circumstances to crush me, I say it. I WILL. I CHOOSE to praise the God of all creation in spite of my circumstances.
No matter what happens, God is good. I give thanks because He is good. I choose to acknowledge Him for His excellent greatness. I praise Him for everything—answered prayers, a beautiful day, a good parking place, a way out of the circumstances (even if I don’t see one), people I love, and so on.
And then a funny thing happens. I find I am no longer gritting my teeth. My smile is no longer forced. From deep down in my spirit something begins to bubble up—something that goes beyond just happiness. JOY! Happiness is dependent on circumstances, but joy comes to those who know there is nothing magical about hope. Joy is the reward of those whose faith and hope is in Jesus Christ. His joy becomes my strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and I can face whatever comes my way with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.