We’re three months into the new year and once again, uncertainties have been the norm, with Omicron and the response to it. Our family has been in transition for the past nine months now and we are still living out of our suitcases, waiting for a visa to return to the country we were in. We’ve lived in three countries and about 8 cities in the past year, and through the many moves and different seasons of hoping, waiting and uncertainties, our inner attitudes have gone through many changes. But one attitude the Lord wants us to have through everything is that of gratitude.
The Bible talks so much about gratitude and thankfulness, and in the past few seasons of my life, I've seen the need for me to cultivate a heart of gratitude. Even in these past few months, as I’ve been reading through the Psalms, this theme has continued. I can’t count the number of times the Psalmists tell God’s people or remind themselves, to give thanks to the Lord and to come before Him with thanksgiving.
Psalm 100:3,4 says:
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 103:1-2 says:
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
And in 2 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul tells the church at Thessalonica that God’s will for them in Christ Jesus was to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in every circumstance.
And so, gratitude or having a thankful heart, both in the corporate gathering of God’s people, as well as in our personal lives, is something that the Lord desires for us, His children. A grateful heart acknowledges who God is in our lives and our dependence on Him. Gratitude towards people shows our dependence on community and the blessings they bring to our lives. A grateful heart is often a joyful and loving heart and one that is willing to serve others.
Do our daily lives show us to be people of gratitude? On certain days, especially during the COVID peaks, we may have been tempted to think we don’t have much to be grateful for. It’s been a season of lots of challenges and grief for many, of loss of jobs and loved ones, and of personal suffering. At such times, we may seem to think there isn’t any reason to rejoice or have a heart of gratitude and the verse we see in Thessalonians, seems unrealistic and impossible.
But the life of gratitude that we are called to live daily goes beyond our immediate physical circumstances and stems from the reality of who God is and His work in our lives even when we can't see it. Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally to us, especially in hard times, and so needs to be practised and cultivated. I’d love to share a few lessons I’ve been learning, which are not new to any of us, and yet so important to keep remembering.
1. Grateful because God is in control
We can be grateful no matter what happens because we know our heavenly Father who is Almighty, perfect in wisdom and who loves us with an everlasting love, He is in control. He knows what lies ahead and this knowledge can fill our hearts with gratitude in the midst of the unknown and even scary situations.
In the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, are arrested for protecting and hiding the Jews from the Nazis and the two sisters find themselves in one of the worst concentration camps – Ravensbruck. There, among the crowds of women, as they hunted for beds, the only ones they found were in the flea-infested part of the camp. It was uncomfortable and disgusting and as Corrie began to complain, Betsy reminded her that they must be thankful in all circumstances. She then goes on to pray, thanking God for the fleas. Corrie thought her sister was out of her mind!
What they didn’t know and only found out later, was that God had specially given this to them, as this was the only area that the guards didn’t come in to inspect, because of the fleas. In this terrible place, they were able to gather together with no interference, to read from the Bible they had smuggled in, and God’s precious Word was translated into different languages and the light and love of God shone in that very dark concentration camp.
I wonder if we sometimes face situations that we just can’t seem to bear, which seem terrible, too uncomfortable, or too painful to handle, but are instruments in the hands of God to grow us or reach out His love to others who are needy?
We can be grateful every day, stepping into each day, knowing it is held in the loving hands of our Father.
2. Grateful for the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ
For all of us who have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our lives are forever changed. We are new people. Our future was headed a certain way, to destruction and eternal separation from God, but through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, our future is now irreversibly changed and we are children of God! The heavy punishment that was on us, the wrath of God meant for us, was suffered and taken upon by the Son of God Himself. And not just that, but we have the glorious and certain hope of one day seeing Jesus and becoming like Him, and living with Him forever and ever.
The gospel and the hope we have through Jesus is so glorious that Paul tells the Romans that our present suffering in this world does not compare to the glory that will be revealed in us. Paul’s life was full of suffering, and yet, he calls all of it "light and momentary afflictions" in the light of eternity.
What Jesus has done for us, is continuing to do in us, and will bring us into, is unbelievably amazing and is worth our hearts overflowing with thanks and praise, even in dark days. Our hearts would grow in gratitude and joy if we would dwell on these truths daily and fix our eyes on Jesus, not on what is around us or within us.
3. Grateful for all of life
‘Count your many blessings, name them one by one; And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!’
This famous hymn is a favourite with my children and sometimes, when the girls have a day full of complaints, we begin to list the many things we are thankful to the Lord for. (I must admit I stole this idea from a Berenstain Bears book.) We sit in a circle and go one by one, and just keep going on for a bit. Soon, we all realize we have much to be thankful for.
Sometimes, when I see ingratitude creeping in or know I’m feeling down, I begin praying and telling the Lord all that I am thankful for, and soon my heart is filled with thanksgiving. There is so much to be thankful for – our health, food, shelter, family, friends, life, and most of all, the Lord. A few things that have been filling my heart with gratitude this past season have been time spent in nature and receiving God’s love through the hospitality, generosity and care of the different families we have lived with or visited.
But it isn’t just the "good things" in life we must be grateful for, but, for all of life. Henri Nouwen talks about all of life as grace and ways in which God can use all of our past hurts, failures, messes as well as all the good in it, in a unique way to mould us into greater conformity to Christ. He says, “The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life.”
What a wonderful God we have, one who redeems our lives from the pit and crowns us with lovingkindness and compassion! Let us ask God to open our eyes to His presence, working and blessings in our lives, let our mind dwell on the truths of the Gospel and receive with thankfulness all of life as a gift from Him.