So many times my prayers do not reflect a grateful heart, but a needy one. Giving thanks is easy in those miraculous moments, and those special times of reflection and rejoicing. It is not so easy during times of stress, suffering, and waiting.
God blesses those who are “poor in spirit”; he is close to the broken-hearted, the weary, and the afflicted. Yet he asks us to give thanks always and in all circumstances. Many people see this as unreasonable, egotistical, and tyrannical on the part of God– that somehow, he needs our constant and abject praise. But what if this command is for OUR benefit?
IN everything– Not for everything. We don’t thank God FOR the death of a loved one, or the loss of a home, or an injustice done to us. But we can and should thank God for being sovereign throughout all the circumstances of life; for conquering death, for providing help and hope in our times of need; for promising both justice when we have been wronged, and grace when we have been unjust in our turn. There is never a time when we CANNOT be thankful–though there are many times when it is difficult, or when we choose not look beyond our pain.
EVERYTHING–Not just the “big” things– everything. We can be thankful for teeth, for dishes to wash, for traffic, for the way the moon hangs in the misty darkness, for a puppy’s eager greeting, for finally understanding our math homework, for the memory of a loved one, for the song that keeps playing in our head. Sometimes it’s not the actual thing, but what it represents that causes gratitude to well up and turn our hearts back to God. If we wait for “something to be thankful for”, we’ll often miss those things right in front of us.
GIVE– Giving thanks is an action, not just a reaction. It is a choice; a mindset. We learn to say “Thank you” as children. Our parents pound it into our training as “etiquette” or “manners”, but everyone can tell when a thank you is genuine. Saying “Thanks” is not the same as giving Thanks. Actions speak much louder than mere words, and our choices in the moment are a reflection of our true character and not just “good training.”
THANKS– not just the word, but the concept. Even in my neediest moments, as I pour out a suffering, exhausted, wounded, and broken heart, I do so because I have a God who is THERE– a God who listens, who cares, who never leaves me alone and hopeless. I may feel overwhelmed, abandoned, even battered in those moments. But those awful moments do not define my life, nor do they characterize my walk with God.
This morning, I woke up–a small and underappreciated miracle– I am alive! I opened my eyes– I can see! I looked up and saw a roof over my head–I have shelter! I turned over and got out of bed– I can move! I have a bed, mattress, pillows, sheets…a bedroom! I brushed my teeth and washed my face– running water! Teeth! A toothbrush! A wash cloth! Skin! A bathroom–indoor plumbing! I saw a stack of bills on the table– I have electricity! Heat and air conditioning! A table! Money to pay bills!…I’m writing this on a computer with wireless internet in my apartment! All these things are precious gifts from God. I can be grateful, and give Him the thanks He deserves, or I can choose to ignore the blessings, or take the credit myself.
And what if I wake up tomorrow and I can’t see? What if my blessings all disappear– no house, no running water, no food or internet; no money, no family? Giving thanks is still a choice. I can choose to be thankful for who God is, and for what he has chosen to give me– or I can choose to be angry and envious and bitter. Some of the most grateful people I have ever met are those who have struggled with difficult circumstances– poverty, pain, loss, injustice–and yet they have chosen to look beyond those circumstances to give praise to God. Some of the most miserable people I’ve met are those who choose to look at their blessings with contempt; those who deny God’s goodness and choose to see only what they want but don’t have.
Our community experienced flooding recently– some people were inconvenienced by roads washed out or events cancelled. Others experienced leaky roofs, flooded basements, or soggy yards and drives. A few lost their homes and cars, or businesses. In all of this, we’ve seen much to make us sad, scared, and frustrated. But there is also much for which to be grateful– a caring and generous community willing to pull together to help our neighbors– clothing donated, homes opened up, meals provided, and people rescued. We don’t ignore the loss and hurt, but we are strengthened in hope when we look up and over the waters to see that God is still in control of our future, and that he is with us in our present struggles.
And in everything, we will give thanks. And I’m so grateful that we can offer prayers of praise, of petition, of pain; prayers for people and places and priorities; prayers in the flood, in the cleanup, and in the rebuilding.