A Lesson in Gratitude

I’d like to think I’ve lived long enough now that I really understand the cycle of things. I don’t mean that I can intellectually discuss “life” or that I might mentally say “this is how things are,” but instead, that deep within my soul, I possess true comprehension, acceptance — peace, even about how it all works. I’d like to think that by now, in my mid-30s, I wouldn’t be surprised or concerned by the largely unsettled or unresolved status of different aspects of my life. 

We have prayed some pretty big prayers over the last few years. In fact, I think it’s safe to say these last few years have brought about some of our most desperate needs as we’ve looked to God for intervention, prevention, provision, etc. Some answers to our prayers have been fast in coming, while others have seemed to be delayed (though this latter part has more to do with our own time table than the Lord’s). 

Photo source

Photo source

I’ve spent some time reflecting on these situations, even focusing on just this year alone, and what has amazed me is how quickly we have moved on once an answer to our prayers has come. I see a pattern emerge where we ask, we receive, we rejoice, but then, we forget. The cares of life, the needs of situations, and the desires of our hearts choke out the memory of what God has done. 

Two things come to mind when I reflect on this pattern. First, I see my proclivity towards worry, fear, and doubt. In the face of a lifetime of God’s divine and benevolent intervention on my behalf  — sometimes in a miraculous manner, but always in faithful and generous ways — I forget, or at least fail to trust, Who He is. I have a sort of spiritual amnesia, and I begin to think, “God could handle those other situations, but can He really handle this one?”

Second, I see clearly the way of things in this world: no sooner do we find resolution to this or that conflict/situation before another great struggle is upon us. We wrestle with deficits and needs, wants and desires, and we pray for God’s hand to work miraculously or generously on our behalf. But once we experience  resolution in one area, we discover more strife, another obstacle to overcome.

With these two things in mind, I wonder: how do we avoid feeling defeated in life filled with strife? How do we live so that we don’t give into despair? The answer, I have found, resides in the regular practice of gratitude. 

Gratitude. Giving thanks. Expressing appreciation. Remembering provision.

It is in the regular habit of remembering God’s past provision and being thankful for what He has already done that we might allay our tendencies toward doubting His sufficiency for our present and future needs. It is in the daily and often momentary practice of wrestling our discontented hearts back to contentment in Christ that we find peace and joy in our present circumstances. 

Gratitude. I think it’s a habit we regularly overlook, but it’s one that is critical to our spiritual health and well-being. This is why it is expressly commanded so often in scripture. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  — Philippians 4:6-7
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”  — Colossians 3:15
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I could list for you the many ways God has worked in our lives this year. I could also list for you the pressing areas of concern and the great needs we currently have. But I don’t think that’s what is most important right now, as I’m sure you have your own things to remember and pressing needs you bear for today. What’s most important for us today is that we come back to that great and life-giving discipline of gratitude…not because tomorrow is Thanksgiving, but because today, our lives depends on it. 

The practice of gratitude won’t change our circumstances, but it will change our mind’s attention and our hearts affections. Practicing gratitude helps us remember God’s sufficiency for us in any and all great storms of life. And gratitude challenges us to be generous in all ways because God has always been generous to us. 

So today, I am thankful for how God has worked in the past. I am grateful for His present provision. And I am contented in knowing He will be everything we need in the future. 

Happy Thanksgiving, from our family to yours!