Numerous themes throughout scripture give us hints as to how we are to act, and one of the most prolific topics is that of being grateful. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.” Psalm 118:4 proclaims that “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”; and again in Colossians 3:17 we see that “whatever we do, whether it be in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father.” And this is simply the tip of the iceberg of gratitudinal texts (yes, that is not a word but I think it fits)! So maybe, if you’re like me, you ask yourself, “why?” Why is this theme of gratefulness so prevalent? Why are we told so often and in so many cases that we are to “give thanks”? Well, it’s in our DNA.
Simply put, giving thanks, giving gratitude, being grateful-–they are all forms of the same response that is written into our DNA. That’s right, we were created to reflect God's glory, so gratitude is written into us. How do we know? Think about how good it feels when you are overwhelmed with joy and simply give thanks. Think about the happiness that flows through your veins when someone does something beautiful and amazing for you and you are left speechless. This feeling that falls upon us brings us to a feeling of joy, elation, and peace. This is how we’re supposed to feel. These are things that we’re supposed to do for one another so that we feel this way. Even more so toward a relational and loving God, the source of all good gifts, I affirm that this is how God designed us to feel in his presence–-all the time. So gratitude is the natural response to the way we’re made as creatures in God's creation. Gratitude is the way God intended us to feel and a natural response to all of life’s journey.
But it doesn't take much honesty to note there are often times when we simply don’t feel thankful. Being grateful for what we have is sometimes overwhelmed by disappointment. Maybe you’re stuck in a job that seems like there is no end and you find no meaning to your toil. Maybe you’re in a relationship that is missing love, grace, hope, and thankfulness. Maybe you’re fighting an ailment that is simply grinding your spirit down and the last thing you feel like doing is “giving thanks.” All of us feel this way at least some point in our life. Nobody ever said being thankful in all situations, as we’re told to be, was going to be easy. You and I both know that the Fall into sin created a massive chasm in how we’re supposed to be and what we are. So let’s agree right now that “being thankful in all situations” is going to take some dedicated attention! So if this is going to take some work on our part--then let’s get crack’n.
If you and I were created to give thanks and feel joy then let’s get busy finding joy in all situations, because the alternative is simply not a place and space I want to be (or where we were created to be). My day feels much better when I seek the joy in a moment-–even when it takes me quite a while to locate it. Maybe it’s a matter of finding perspective, maybe it’s a matter of simply proclaiming God’s love and peace and ultimate redemption of your life in which you find thankfulness amid grief. It may not SEEM like you’re finding gratefulness in that specific moment, but ultimately Christ’s work upon the cross trumps everything anyway–-so we can be grateful in that all-encompassing truth! Maybe it’s simply drinking in the peace we have for the grace of our triune God in which we find gratitude, and that’s OK (and let’s be honest here my gratitude for God’s grace can, and will, never end). Nobody ever said our thankfulness had to be in a specific response to a specific situation. Gratitude simply is. It’s expressing our profound thanks for all that God has done-–and maybe that’s exactly what we need to do when we seem to be unable to give thanks--we just do it anyway.
Despair and frustration are also natural responses to the sin in our world, but they don't have the final word. There are times to grieve, and grieve deeply, but we can also cling with gratitude to our faithful God. It may sound silly but science is proving that simply changing our thoughts and emotions is actually healthy. Our spirits are raised, our attitudes shift, our brain chemistry changes--but even more than this, we change spiritually and revert back to where God wants us to be.
While these are not the end-all of tips, try one of these, combine them, or make your own:
These are not all the possibilities, and I pray you find something that helps shift your spirit. Again, this takes work, but know that just as we are to give thanks in all situations, the Holy Spirit fills you up with love in all situations so that you can praise him and feel his peace, if only as a candle in the darkness.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema