Thankful But Not Overjoyed

“In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18, KJV) is a Bible verse as widely misused as it is widely known. It sounds like a command to be glad for literally everything that happens: thus the dry humor that quips, “So I’m supposed to jump up and down with joy over a sprained ankle?” and the double pain of feeling we should be “happy” in the face of real tragedy. A careful study of the Scriptures, especially the example of Jesus (e. g., Mark 3:5, Luke 19:41–44, and the well-known John 11:35), is the best argument against any claim that God invariably counts it as sin to see us in tears.

However, for those of us reduced to tears over everyday frustration, the question of obeying the “thankful” command becomes trickier. Picking up on last post’s theme of thought habits, I can say from personal experience that the “grumble-and-brood reflex” is capable of putting up quite a fight—particularly when life as a whole is delivering an ongoing overdose of change-stress:

  • My home church of twenty years is on the edge of changing both senior pastors and parent denominations.
  • I’ve told my landlord twice in the past year that I’d be moving “soon,” but all attempts to set a specific date have been foiled.
  • A relative from another state died just before Mother’s Day, throwing weekend plans into a tailspin for a dozen extended-family members.
  • While the full-time job I want remains elusive, I suddenly found myself shouldering three new and regular part-time/volunteer/contract commitments in as many weeks. One involves initiating a social media program from scratch with rank-amateur experience and near illiteracy on SEO.
  • My long-time sources of regular freelance income have dried up, and I haven’t seen an expression of interest in my self-published works in months.
  • Major depression seems out to get me (I spent a good part of the past month’s days off, including Easter weekend, under a mental black cloud), necessitating a dreaded physical checkup and possible medication.

Add in the sense of pressure to find full-time work, do some freelance marketing, lose forty unwanted and very stubborn pounds—and do something about this fed-up-with-the-world-for-not-indulging-me attitude—and, while I may be hard put to match Job or Paul for degree of suffering, it definitely is tempting to conclude this is more than an ordinary mortal should have to deal with. So how am I supposed to pull a “give thanks in everything” attitude from it?

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Asked another person for daily accountability. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer” (Ecc. 4:12, NLT). Just knowing that someone will ask “how you did” in a few hours is often adequate incentive against “just this once” temptations.
  • Started a blessings journal. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8, NLT). Even on “one of those days where everything went wrong,” the “everything” is never 100%. There are always little surprises—a swallow darting by, a rose bush by the road, a taste of cool breeze—and at least the consolation of having survived to fight again tomorrow!
  • Determined to remember where my strength comes from. “You will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:8, NLT). When we think “this is hopeless, I can’t do anything with it,” then is the time to turn our attention to God-with-us and ask Him to hold us up. He does for us what we in fact can’t do for ourselves—including being patient and forgiving when it seems our imperfections will weigh us down forever.
  • Began looking for points of thankfulness that truly encompass “everything” and “at all times.” “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17, NLT). Try as we may to concentrate on the positive, there come times—if only due to our own underdeveloped attitudes—when we see little to be grateful for in our immediate circumstances. Then is the time to remember that God’s gifts are more than immediate: Jesus died for us once for all time, always forgives us, is always with us. God has an eternal inheritance in Heaven saved up for us. An eternal glory awaits. When we’re anything but glad for the now—when even our ability to appreciate everyday spots of beauty is seriously weakened—we still can remind ourselves how much God has given us that nothing can take away.

I’ll admit it: despite over 25 years as a Christian, most of this is a long-put-off, “just started first grade” matter for me. But by God’s grace, I will learn what true thankfulness is.

How About You? What does “being thankful in all circumstances” mean to you? In what new ways has this post inspired you to think about that phrase? What are you doing to cultivate the habit in yourself?

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2 Comments

  1. Steve Duson

     /  May 16, 2014

    Nicely said.

    Steve.

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  2. I used to think it was my duty as a Christian to always find the positive in all circumstances and look for the higher “plan” in it all. Then I started reading Ecclesiastes and Genesis and realized the God’s plan for me included thorns and thistles and random events that would keep me seeking Gods face.

    Ecclesiastes is a bitter pill for the author does not mince words as he describes a broken world full of pain and suffering. A world of injustice where people abuse others and inflict pain. A world that is so twisted we could never straighten it out.

    They say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and most pills are now coated to make them more pleasant to swallow. For Kohelet the sweetness is found in his encouragement to find joy in living even in the midst of problems, pain and aging. Having just spoken of the personal certainty of death Kohelet looks you straight in the eye and says “Go then, eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart for today your work is blessed by God. Put on your best clothes, use your finest perfume and enjoy each futile day of your fleeting life with the people you love for these pleasures are God’s gift to you in your toilsome labor under the sun.”

    For Kohelet, the brevity of life and the knowledge that troubles will certainly come our way is always counterbalanced by the joys that can be found within the days we are given. He is not a grouchy old man who wants to ruin your party. He just wants you to know that joy is found each day, in the cracks between the trials that life brings our way. “Life is sweet,” he says, “and it is a pleasure to see the light of day. No matter how many days a person may live each one should be fully enjoyed for darker days, days of futility, will come.”

    Kohelet takes all the false promises, ideologies and theologies we have been given and replaces them with one bitter word “futile”. He also has many good things to tell us but most can’t get past the initial bitter taste and spit it all out. They choose to remain in an unhealthy state that will only worsen over time.

    A horrible tasting cough syrup became popular because they took Kohelet’s stance in their marketing and said, “It tastes awful, and it works.” Life indeed can be a “miserable situation” for time and chance do happen to us all, terrible times do fall unexpectedly upon us and death is the ultimate destiny of every person.

    Kohelet offers us a bitter pill but when we swallow it we will find we are more ready to enjoy life to the fullest.

    Vance – artofwork.ca

    Reply

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