There are times in all of our lives when it can be hard to be thankful, to show gratitude for the blessings we enjoy, to appreciate the things people do for us, and to acknowledge the courtesies we are shown. Failing to do these things is the sin of ingratitude. Psalm 118:24 tells us, “This is the day the Lord made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Most Christians know this verse—many know it by heart—but knowing it and obeying it are two different things.
Sometimes the day the Lord made feels like a disaster. You have a flat tire on the way to work, your checking account is overdrawn, you have a spat with your spouse, the professor springs an unannounced test on the class, your boss asks you to work late when you have other plans, at a business lunch you spill the dessert in your lap, or the school calls because your son is in trouble for fighting. Many things in our lives can make rejoicing and being glad in the day the Lord made a challenge.
Mike wasn’t feeling too grateful when his pastor preached a sermon based on Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” As Mike listened, he fidgeted in the pew becoming more and more angry by the minute. Finally, able to take it no more, he got up and walked out of church. Rather than drive home, Mike went to the pastor’s office, pulled up a chair, and waited. He had known Pastor Lane for ten years. They had a close, trusting relationship. Mike could talk openly with him.
When the service ended, Pastor Lane found Mike waiting for him. Without prelude, Mike got right to the point. “You preached about a kingdom that cannot be shaken and how we are supposed to be grateful. Well, my kingdom has been shaken. My wife left me, I didn’t get the promotion my boss promised, and my house is falling apart because I am working 12-hour days and don’t have time to maintain it. With all of this, tell me why I should be grateful and for what.”
Pastor Lane knew about Mike’s circumstances and wondered when he would come in for a chat. “Mike, you aren’t supposed to be thankful that Evelyn left you, or that you didn’t get the promotion you were promised, or that your house is falling apart because you are working long hours. Right now, you find yourself in difficult circumstances and have every right to be angry and frustrated about them. Anyone would. But don’t miss the point of my sermon. Even in the worse circumstances, we have things to be thankful for. The best way to overcome the anger, bitterness, and frustration you feel about what you’re not thankful for is to focus on what you are thankful for or, at least, what you should be thankful for.”
His words dripping with skepticism, Mike responded: “Oh, really. Name one thing I should be thankful for.” Pastor Lane smiled knowingly and said: “To begin with, your marriage to Evelyn isn’t irretrievably broken. She moved out to get your attention. You have been working so hard for a promotion you have been ignoring her and the kids for months. Second, you didn’t get the promotion you wanted this time, but you still have a good job and a promotion is still in your future. Finally, you don’t have to work 12-hour days to impress your boss. You are a valuable employee, and he knows it.
“But Mike, these aren’t the main reasons you should be grateful. The bigger reason is God loves you so much he sent his only son to die on the cross so you can have everlasting life. When you think there is nothing to be grateful for, think of the words in 1 Chronicles 16:34: ‘Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.’ It is easy to get so wrapped up in the daily exigencies of life you overlook the big picture. Mike, you are alive, healthy, have a good job, and an opportunity to repair your marriage. Be thankful for these things, but be even more thankful you can have everlasting life because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.”
Pastor Lane went on to tell Mike he had recently read that people who focus on what they have to be grateful for rather than giving in to self-pity are happier, healthier, and better adjusted. They sleep better, have a lower heart rate, and benefit from lower blood pressure. “Mike, when you are feeling down, remember to be thankful for the little things too because in reality they aren’t so little. Be thankful for a beautiful sunset, flowers blooming, stars shining on a clear night, the pleasure of a good meal, and the joy of good music. In the worst of circumstances, these things still exist for you as does the love of Christ.”
Mike took Pastor Lane’s advice to heart and, within months, his marriage was on the mend, his house was in good shape, and he was enjoying a better balance between his job and home life. Any time he found himself feeling ungrateful, Mike sat down and made a list of all the things he could think of to be grateful for. Then he got down on his knees and thanked God for everything item on the list. His list included such things as the serenity of a peaceful forest, tranquility of a calm sea, quiet of an early morning, soothing sound of a rushing stream, company of a loving companion, camaraderie of old friends, soft patter of rain on the roof, the enticing aroma of coffee brewing, and the unconditional love of God—a love that endures forever.
If you find your gratitude being undermined by the burdens of life in a fallen world, try Mike’s strategy. Sit down and make a list of all the things you can think of to be thankful for. Make sure the first item on your list is always the unconditional, eternal, and sacrificial love of God. Then get down on your knees as Mike does and thank God for every item on your list. The more often you repeat this exercise, the more you will find to be thankful for and the happier, healthier, and better adjusted you will be.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com