When we carry a spirit of thanksgiving, it permeates our entire being.
A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the television was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. They were opposite in every way, one an eternal optimist, the other a doom-and-gloom pessimist.
Just to see what would happen, the twins’ father, on their birthday, loaded the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. He loaded the optimist’s room with hay. That night when the father passed by the pessimist’s room, he found him sitting amid his new gifts, crying bitterly.
“Why are you crying?” the father asked.
“Because my friends will be jealous. And I’ll have to read all of these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff. I’ll need batteries all the time, and my toys will get broken,” the pessimistic twin answered.
Passing the optimistic twin’s room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of hay.
“What are you so happy about?” he asked.
His optimist twin replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
This story illustrates that we are either the master or the victim of our attitudes. It is a matter of our choice. Who we are today is the result of choices made yesterday. Tomorrow we will become what we choose today. To change means to choose to change.
In the Canadian northlands there are just two seasons: winter and July. When the back roads begin to thaw, they become muddy. Vehicles going into the backwoods country leave deep ruts that freeze with the cold weather. When you enter this primitive area during the winter, you see a sign that reads, “Driver, please choose carefully which rut you drive in, because you’ll be in it for the next twenty miles.”
We are instructed to “give thanks.” This is excellent advice, because a grateful person will be a happier, healthier, and holier person. But it is more than just good advice. It is a command: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, NKJV). “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NKJV).
Gratitude Is Expansive
Paul says we should give thanks “in everything.” Those are the two words that make this verse so very difficult. If we were instructed to thank God in “most things,” we could live with it. If we were told to thank God in “good things,” we would find the verse a lot easier to accept and abide by. But Paul says we are to thank God in “everything.”
Interestingly, there is no Scripture that commands us to feel grateful. Feelings come and go. They can be affected by the weather, by our physical condition, or by how much rest we got the night before. Thanksgiving has nothing to do with feelings. Whether things are good or bad, we are to be grateful.
You may say to yourself, “That’s easy for Paul to say!” No, it wasn’t. Paul had to flee Thessalonica for fear of losing his life. He had been beaten, whipped, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned, and left for dead. Yet he said, “In everything give thanks.”
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are beaten with rods, whipped, scourged, and then thrown into prison. But instead of sighing, they begin to sing praises to God. What does giving thanks in “everything” mean for daily living? Let’s looks at two areas.
1. We are to be grateful for the blessings of life.“The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22, NKJV). According to this verse, if you are His, you have been blessed by God. And if you have been blessed by God, you are rich.
Do you thank God for the blessings of life — just the simple, everyday blessings? Take food, for example. Do you know that about 10 percent of people in the world go to bed hungry every night? More than one-third of the world’s people are underfed. About 17 people starve to death every minute!
Do you ever thank God for water? Did you know that only 3 percent of the world’s water is fresh water? And only 0.5 percent of all the world’s water is available for people to use? Did you know that about 25 percent people in the world have to drink impure, contaminated water? How grateful we ought to be for the blessings of God!
2. We are to be grateful for the burdens of life.“In everything we are to give thanks.” Notice it is in everything, not necessarily foreverything. Though we are not meant to be thankful for trouble, we are to be thankful in the midst of trouble. Indeed, one of the purposes of the trials and tribulations that come to us in life is to move us to thanksgiving. “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15, NASB).
Everything that happens to us also happens for us. That is why we are to give thanks in every situation. Regardless of how bad it may seem to us, God wants to use the bad things in our lives to move us to thanksgiving.
The famous Bible teacher Matthew Henry was accosted by thieves, who stole all of his money. He wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I was robbed, not I who robbed.”1
The Mark of a Growing Christian
A baby is ungrateful. You can take an infant with colic and walk the floor with her for seven hours, and when you put that little baby down, she won’t look up at you and say, “Thank you very much!” She may even yell a little louder. But we don’t blame her, because she’s a baby.
What about a little child? A young child can be taught to be appreciative and grateful. Gratitude is not something that comes naturally but something they can learn. You have probably experienced how difficult it is sometimes for a child to say “thank you.”
For us, gratitude is a real test of character. For us, saying “thank you” in all things indicates where we are spiritually and how much we have grown.
The Mark of a Glowing Christian
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 92:1, NASB). Having an attitude of gratitude will change your life. It will shield you from cynicism. It will keep you from criticism. It will protect you from pessimism. It will draw you close to God.
In The Finishing Touch, Chuck Swindoll writes, “Petty people are worse than stubborn; they are negative and rigidly inflexible. While we work overtime to come up with some soaring idea, they’ve already thought up eight reasons why it won’t fly.”
In one of his more serious moments, Mike Yaconelli addressed the issue of pettiness: “Petty people are … people who have lost their vision. They are people who have turned their eyes away from what matters and focus, instead, on what doesn’t matter. The result is that the rest of us are immobilized by their obsession with the insignificant. It is time to rid the church of pettiness. It is time the church refused to be victimized by petty people. It is time the church stopped ignoring pettiness. It is time the church quit pretending that pettiness doesn’t matter” (The Wittenburg Door, Dec. 1984/Jan. 1985).
The Mark of a Giving Christian
Everything you have is a gift from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (NKJV). If you are a grateful Christian, you will be a giving Christian.
“ ‘Thanksgiving, to be truly thanksgiving, is first thanks, then giving.’ You can give without being thankful, but you cannot be thankful without giving. When you give, you not only are acknowledging that everything you have is a gift from God, but you are expressing your gratitude to Him.”2
A version of this commentary was posted by the Stewardship Ministries Department of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1. P. L. Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, 1996).
2. “7 Habits of Highly Effective Stewards,” St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School, Munster, Indiana, United States.