As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him, and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
The importance of thankfulness in the Christian life is undeniable. It is a command repeated often in Scripture. We are told to rejoice always and to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
What should we give thanks for? I am sure we have all heard the “count your blessings name them one-by-one, count your many blessings see what God has done” song. Perhaps it is just me, but when I hear this I often think of listing out all the ways the Lord has physically blessed me. Food, clothes, shelter, family, living in the US, my car, etc. It’s true there is much to be thankful for, and we so often take it for granted. However, is this what the writers of Scripture had in mind? More importantly, is this what God (who carried along the writers of the Bible) has in mind? What does it really mean to give thanks in everything?
I think of a story I read recently of an Indian Believer. Though she converted to Christianity at the age of 11 she was married to a non-Christian man, and she is the only Christian in her village. At 16 she gave birth to her first son, and 4 years later a second son. It was not long after his birth that her husband became ill and died. She was hindered from getting a job to support her sons because of her faith in Christ. Then, her youngest son passed away at only five years old. The villagers blamed her, and her faith for the death of both her husband and son. She was threatened and came close to martyrdom. After all this, she said, “I had one certainty, I would not betray Jesus. Despite all the tragedies, He has never disappointed me.” (source)
The question I have been pondering is, what would my faith by like if I faced all of this? Would I be rejoicing? Would I be overflowing with gratitude? It would seem silly to look at this sister-in-Christ and tell her to “count her blessings.” Why? Her faith, and thus her joy and gratitude do not rest in the physical.
Much of what we western Christians enjoy is not enjoyed by our brothers and sisters around the world. This became very real to me a little over two years ago. I was able to go on a month-long mission trip to the Philippines. We spent time in many different locations and churches. However, there is one in particular that has been indelibly impressed upon my mind and heart.
This church was planted and continues to be led by a young man and his wife who have a small daughter. The church itself is not a building (though there are many churches in building in the Phils.), but rather a concrete pad with a roof over it. No walls.
In order to begin this church, the young pastor’s family have had to live on the same property. Their entire home is smaller than my bedroom. It is a couple of rooms roughly constructed at the back of the church area, consisting of a very small kitchen and one bedroom both about the size of an American bathroom.
But, it isn’t the poverty I mainly remember, it is the joy. The Filipino people are so full of joy! They worship God wholeheartedly. They aren’t complaining. And I wonder, why, oh, why do I so often lack in being full of gratitude?
Have I been looking in the wrong place?
Being thankful cannot come from our circumstances, possessions, or even family and friends. Because if it does, we will not be giving thanks in everything. We will not be overflowing with gratitude. The fact is circumstances are not constant, possessions do not exist for eternity, and people are not perfect.
Thankfulness must be rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the only constant in this changing world. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) With Him is not even a shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
As Christians, we have enough reasons to rejoice and give thanks for all eternity! We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:13) Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:38-39) We have been everything needed for life and godliness and exceeding precious promises. (2 Peter 1:3-4) Our salvation in Christ is an eternal, unchanging reality. We will never reach the end of His mercy and grace, therefore we will never run out of things to be thankful for.
I have made it a practice, when I am feeling a lack of joy and gratitude in my soul, to turn to God’s Word. Rather than turning to physical blessings, to freshly treasure the fullness of salvation in Christ. As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “Obedience is always possible.”
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with his ornaments and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.