Learning to Be Thankful


By Shelly Esser

A number of years ago I was watching a Good Morning America show at Thanksgiving time. The God Squad - a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest – interviewed numerous homeless people about what they had to be thankful for. I was in tears by the end of the segment as person after person, having no material possessions, no place to even lay their head or no knowledge about where their next meal would come from – could say with a smile that they are so thankful to just simply be alive, thanking God for another day! 

In comparison, I have so much and yet my heart doesn’t always gravitate towards gratitude like theirs did. Life in itself is an incredible gift. Because it’s so easy to get bogged down with the mundane tasks of living, we can often forget that. To further complicate things, we live in a society that teaches us to want more and never be satisfied with what we do have.

I like what G.K. Chesterton said, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.” Thankfulness is to be a way of life and we are to cherish what we’ve been given in every single context of it. 

The people interviewed on television had full hearts of gratitude, despite very difficult circumstances. With the hardship of their lives they could easily have failed to see past their problems, even blaming God, but instead they actively looked for God’s blessings and chose to give thanks despite their circumstances. They started by giving thanks at the most basic level – for simply being born.

1Thessalonians 5:18 commands us to “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice the focus on “all” – when we’re healthy, and when we’re not, when things are going well and when they’re not, when we’re poor and when we’re rich – it covers every conceivable thing we can ever experience. Why? Because thankfulness is the will of God for us. Wow! How many passages in Scripture actually spell things out that indisputably and clearly? It is the will of God to be thankful – all the time! 

Thanking God in good times is easy, but how do we do it when life goes terribly wrong? It takes an act of the will – a choice. Oftentimes, I’ve found it is the very act of thankfulness itself that God uses in the dark hours to ignite my hope and change my perspective. Ultimately, a grateful spirit does wonders for our hearts and outlooks on problems and life in general. Practicing thankfulness helps us move from what isn’t to what is. It moves our attention to what God is doing wherever we find ourselves. 

I have intentionally looked for God’s hand on my shoulder throughout uncertainty and painful circumstances. What I have discovered is that when I am looking for God’s hand on my shoulder, my faith and trust in God have been strengthened and renewed, and my heart fills up with thanksgiving. At these moments, I have become acutely aware of His presence. Despite discouraging circumstances, I have been able to witness His hand in ways I never would have had I not stopped to look for them. As author Craig Barnes said, “Every day of your life you face the possibility that a blessing in your life may be taken away. We are grateful that we are held by God even when the blessings are slipping through our fingers.” No matter what happens to us, we can always be thankful that we “are held by God”! Thankfulness also helps us to grow in our capacity to trust God. By trusting and turning our hearts towards thankfulness we find what we need to live in the present circumstances whatever they may be. 

The more we demand, complain and worry, the less we can value, cherish, savor, enjoy,  accept, and see God’s hand working in our lives. Psalm 34:1 says “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” Maybe it’s time for a gratitude check. Looking for the blessings in our lives is a choice we make daily in all of our circumstances. If the homeless can do it, so can we!

If we truly think about it, there is much in our lives for which we can learn to be thankful. But there are also situations we cannot understand, and we find it a struggle to utter “Thank You” over them. Remember that God is a powerful God. He is in control of all things, and He offers you His comfort and His presence while working in your circumstances - even in the hardships. It is our prayer that as you read through our articles, you too will be encouraged and inspired to adopt a spirit of thankfulness at all times and in all things.  

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