A number of years ago I was watching a Good Morning America show at Thanksgiving time. The God Squad a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest – interviewed numerous homeless people about what they had to be thankful for. I was in tears by the end of the segment as person after person, having nothing materially – no place to even lay their head or no knowledge about where their next meal would come from could say with a smile that they are so thankful to just simply be alive, thanking God for another day! And they meant it. Sobering.
In comparison, I have so much and yet my heart doesn’t always gravitate towards gratitude like theirs did. Life in itself is an incredible gift. Because it’s so easy to get bogged down with the mundane tasks of living, we can often forget that. To further complicate things, society has made the quest to satisfy our desires the foundation on which we teach people to build their lives, and by never having enough, we have a hard time appreciating all we do have. I like what G.K. Chesterton said, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.” Gratitude is to be a way of life and we are to cherish what we’ve been given in every single context of it.
What I find interesting about the people interviewed is that they had full hearts of gratitude despite very difficult circumstances. With the hardship of their lives they could easily have failed to see past their problems, even blaming God, but instead they actively looked for God’s blessings and chose to give thanks anyway. They started by giving thanks for life. For simply being born.
1Thessalonians 5:18 commands us to “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice the focus on “all” – when we’re healthy, and when we’re not, when things are going well and when they’re not, when we’re poor and when we’re rich it covers every conceivable thing we can ever experience. Why? Because thankfulness is the will of God for us. Wow! How many passages in Scripture actually spell things out that indisputably and clearly? The passage actually tells us, in case we don’t get it, it is the will of God to be thankful – all the time!.
Thanking God in good times is easy, but how do we do it when life goes terribly wrong? It takes an act of the will – a choice. Oftentimes, I’ve found it is the very act of gratitude itself that God uses in the dark hours to ignite my hope and change my perspective. Ultimately, a grateful spirit does wonders for our hearts and outlooks on problems and life in general. Practicing thankfulness helps us move from what isn’t to what is. It moves our attention to what God is doing wherever we find ourselves.
This past year has been a tough one. As such, I have intentionally looked for God’s hand on my shoulder throughout uncertainty and painful circumstances. What I have discovered is that when I am looking for God’s hand on my shoulder, my faith and trust in God has been strengthened and renewed, and my heart fills up with thanksgiving. At these moments, I have become acutely aware of His presence. Despite terrible circumstances, I have been able to witness His hand in ways I never would have had I not stopped to look for them. As author Craig Barnes said, “Every day of your life you face the possibility that a blessing in your life may be taken away. We are grateful that we are held by God even when the blessings are slipping through our fingers.” No matter what happens to us, we can always be thankful that we “are held my God”! Thankfulness helps us to grow in our capacity to trust God. By trusting and turning our hearts towards thankfulness we find what we need to live in the present circumstances whatever they may be.
The more we demand, complain and worry, the less we can value, cherish, savor, enjoy, accept, and see God’s hand working in our lives. Psalm 34:1 says “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” Maybe it’s time for a gratitude check. Looking for the blessings in our lives is a choice we make daily in all of our circumstances. If the homeless can do it, so can we!
In His service,