Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1
This week I’m continuing a series about developing and maintaining a dynamic life of prayer by addressing the topic of giving thanks to the Lord. (You can check out the previous two posts under the link to the left called, Recent Posts.) As with praise, thanksgiving is an essential component of every day prayer.
Being thankful is not something that came naturally to me. If pressed, I would be able to come up with a few things for which I was grateful, but that took time and thought. Gratitude did now flow freely from my lips probably because I didn’t think I had a whole lot for which to be thankful.
Two reasons come to mind for why giving thanks may not come naturally to someone. The first reason is because he or she assumes every good thing in their life is a result of their own hard work or ingenuity. The way they see it, nothing was just given to them – they worked hard for it and think they have only themselves to thank.
The spiritual danger in this attitude is pride. Pride is about giving ourselves the credit that rightfully belongs to God. Here is the theological truth to which a prideful person is blind: God gives each of us, in varying degrees, all of the skills, talents and ingenuity we possess. They did not come from anyone or anywhere else.
When we put these gifts to good use, and reap benefits, God still deserves thanks because he is the source of our gifts. None of us is self-made, nor are we the masters of our own destiny. We are creatures created by a generous God who fills the earth, and our lives, with good things. So the appropriate response to such generosity is thanksgiving, not self-congratulation.
The second reason someone may not be readily thankful is that they don’t think they have much for which to give thanks. He or she may also assume everyone else has it better in life than they do. I’ve often found myself in this category – polishing up my list of grievances instead of giving thanks for my blessings. On many occasions, when things would go wrong in my life my first response would be to feel sorry for myself. This is a dangerous spiritual trap; just as dangerous as pride.
As I look back on my life now, I’ve always had so very much for which to be thankful, but I couldn’t see it. My disappointments in life loomed much larger in my mind than the many blessings that surrounded me.
My friend Amy (that’s not her real name) taught me a lot about giving thanks to the Lord. She’s faced some real challenges and heartaches in her life, but she retains a spirit of thankfulness that is refreshing and inspiring. She keeps a “gratitude journal” and writes about the everyday things for which she is thankful. From her I discovered it’s possible for the Holy Spirit to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving, even in someone like me; all it takes is willingness and some practice.
So taking my cues from Amy, several years ago I wrote up a list of the things for which I was thankful. The list was embarrassingly short and unimaginative:
- thankful I’m alive
- for my husband and children
- that my dishwasher still works (it was ancient)
But, considering the entrenched attitude I was seeking to change, it was a beginning.
Next, I decided to practice giving thanks to the Lord as I took my morning walk. Usually when I walked in the morning I would be lost in thought about this or that problem, but I decided I needed to look up and notice the world around me, instead.
To my surprise, I discovered that the path I walk is filled with great beauty. I found myself spontaneously giving thanks for all that my eyes and ears beheld: the weather (there is loveliness to behold even on cloudy and stormy days) the birds chirping and swooping around me, and the leaves on the trees and the way sunlight makes them translucent.
Soon I was finding endless things for which to give thanks:
- God’s saving grace
- forgiveness of my sins
- new life in Jesus Christ
- another day to praise the Lord
- the way my daughter’s face lights up when she smiles
- the sound of my son’s laughter
- my husband’s enduring love
- fresh morning air
- clouds moving swiftly across the sky
- the lady who let me go ahead of her in line
- God’s infinite patience with me
- the scent of basil growing in my garden… And so on.
I guess you could say I’ve had a conversion, of sorts. No longer do I take even the most mundane aspect of life for granted. I now see that I am exceedingly rich, regardless of my lot in life, because God never ceases to surround me – and all of us – with good things, continually. All it takes to see the riches God bestows on you is a willingness to let the Holy Spirit root out pride and self-pity, and instead, cultivate within you a spirit of thanksgiving.
Next week: Giving thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)