“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – I Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6
I’ve been thinking often about what it looks like to cultivate a thankful heart in this season of life the Lord has led us into. Several years ago I read a story in a small booklet written by Bill Bright entitled “How you can walk in the Spirit”. It has stuck with me for years. At the end of this booklet Bill Bright shares a story of a woman who came into his office who was going through great pain and grief over a friend who had died in a car accident, where she had been the driver. He shared some scripture and then asked her a simple question at the end of their conversation “Have you thanked God since the loss of your loved one?” I remember thinking 1. I would never have the courage to challenge someone to a thankful heart in the midst of great pain and 2. Am I that convinced that God REALLY means be thankful in ALL circumstances? I looked up the word for “all”, it is the Greek word “pas” which means: individually, each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, EVERYTHING. It is not saying I get to selectively choose what to be thankful for, but to “give thanks” (which is a verb, and therefore an action and therefore a choice to act on) in each, individual circumstance He brings me into. I know that the opposite of a thankful heart is one that is ungrateful and often bitter. I read a quote by someone the other day, I’m not sure who but he said “I’ve never met a bitter person with a thankful heart or a thankful person with a bitter heart.” We all probably know the people that complain about their lives, and have found ourselves as that person perhaps more often than we care to admit, but what would it look like to have a heart transformed by praise? To be honest about our feelings about our circumstances but consistently be drawn back to thankfulness to the one that has allowed us to walk through our circumstances. I am convinced that God calls us to thankfulness because it acknowledges our trust in Him and frees us from the bitterness that can so easily take root in our lives. I remember thinking of this story from Bill Bright when Kevin and I walked out of the Doctor’s office after finding out the official diagnosis of our daughter. As we stepped into the car, overwhelmed with emotion and tears I said to Kevin (more for myself than for us at the time) “We need to thank the Lord for this”. I didn’t know how I would give thanks to begin this new journey but I knew I needed to, so both of us prayed. We prayed words of praise and thankfulness to the One we are convinced loves us and is good, we confessed our trust in Him, while honest about our fears and sorrow and we thanked Him for allowing us to walk this path and for how we knew that He would walk it with us. We prayed that God would continue to give us thankful hearts, a heart of praise in this season of great sadness. He has and continues to be faithful to answer that prayer. I am challenged daily to give thanks; this is not my natural inclination. I’m really good at complaining, I’m really good at dwelling on all the hard things. But I’m learning daily to choose thankfulness, to find more things to thank the Lord for than to complain about or wish away. And I think, well… I know, He is transforming my heart in the process. I still ask “why?” but my heart has not grown bitter, it has only grown more thankful that He holds the answers to my “why’s”. It is a daily, moment by moment choice of thankfulness. It is a choice I have to make out of faith, despite what I may feel. How quickly the seed of bitterness can take root. Hebrews 12:15 says “ See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” When I find my heart growing sour, sadness that leads me to ask why, that leads me to compare my circumstance with that of others, that leads me to anger… you know where that is going… the Lord is quick to turn my heart to the choice to spend my thoughts on thankfulness. The question is, will I in faith choose thankfulness, or sit in my pity party? Ungratefulness is a thief of joy. Thankfulness leads me to deep joy. So today I am thankful. I am thankful that God has chosen Kevin and I to walk this journey with Sophie. I am thankful that in His infinite wisdom, He has allowed our little girl to have anencephaly. I am thankful that we have a daughter who is alive and with us now. I am thankful that God is at work, doing something far greater in and through all 3 of our lives than we could ever imagine. I am thankful that God takes sorrow and pain and brings about deep joy, some of which I’m experiencing now and some which I know will come later. I am thankful for family moments like this morning where Kevin and I just sat in bed and read to Sophie from the The Jesus Storybook Bible and watched her kick like crazy. I am thankful for the tears of sadness I shed this afternoon that led me to the Lord, that led me to praise, that led me to sing. I am not thankful because I feel like every part of this story is good or makes sense to me; I am thankful because I know the One who is Good in everything and I know the One who all of this makes sense to. I don’t have to understand to be thankful or even feel thankful to be thankful; I can simply in faith thank the One that does understand and because He is in control of my circumstances, I can thank Him for my circumstances.
I’ll leave you with a sweet excerpt from my devotional today from Streams in the Desert:
“When they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushments… and they were smitten.” – 2 Chron. 20:22
“Oh, that we could reason less about our troubles, and sing and praise more! There are thousands of things that we wear as shackles which we might use as instruments with music in them, if we only knew how.
Those men that ponder, and meditate, and weigh the affairs of life, and study the mysterious developments of God’s providence, and wonder why they should be burdened and thwarted and hampered – how different and how much more joyful would be their lives, if, instead of forever indulging in self-revolving and inward thinking, they would take their experiences, day by day, and lift them up, and praise God for them.”