I have been abundantly blessed to have been born and raised in a godly household, with two of the most devout servants of Christ as my parents. With that said, the guidance and advice I receive from them during times of anxiety, doubt, and sorrow is always biblically sound and points me straight to the throne. One of my mom's go-to methods of helping me through a rough patch is to have me "count my blessings." Now, let me just say, this used to drive me insane. There are very few things that sound worse to a moody teenager going through all the (in hindsight, insignificant) "trials of life" than being forced to sit down with a pen and paper and write down what they're thankful for. But today? I'm thankful that she made me do this! She planted an attitude of gratitude deep within my soul that has carried me through the fiercest storms of life.
The idea of "thanksgiving" appears 25 times in the NIV Bible, with an average of 30 or so times among other popular translations. When we study the Hebrew manuscripts (as we all do in our daily study... hope the sarcasm translates), we see that there were many words used to convey this idea of thanksgiving, with the majority of them being verbs. Thanksgiving is an action. This particular action takes many forms, which supports the writers of Scripture using many forms of this word, and can look different in each season we find ourselves in. Thanksgiving is obviously a big deal to God.
What my mom hoped to accomplish by asking me to count my blessings, and what I believe God hopes to accomplish when commanding us to adopt a spirit of thankfulness, is for our hearts to be continually focused on the goodness of God. As a result of God's general revelation of himself, or his presence overflowing within the earthly world around us, along with his specific and unique blessings he provides, there is nowhere we can run to that his goodness hasn't touched.
But unfortunately, at one point or another, we all decide to close our eyes, or put our blindfolds on, and make a run for it. And it is in these moments of our blinded running through life that we run into obstacles that make us question God's goodness. But if we allowed ourselves to slow down, dared to open our eyes, we would see the flowers blooming along the path, and the water in the desert. We would see that everything we thought was missing was right in front of us.
Intentionally counting our blessings, although just one way to offer thanks to the Lord, and seeking the things worthy of praise all around us reminds us that God is the ultimate provider and sustainer of life, regardless of how bad things may seem.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17, New International Version).
When we start to see the good in the bad, we begin to see the beauty from the ashes. When we begin to see pieces of God scattered all around us, we start to have the confidence that everything will be okay.
Think about this... Think about how passionately the Enemy hates an attitude of gratitude. Think about the proclamation you are making when you are willing to say that you chose to see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Think about the immense pleasure you bring the Lord when you acknowledge his provisions even during your anxiety, doubt, and sorrow. Think about the state of peace and contentment your soul would experience if you would just utter a few simple words of praise to Jesus.
Thanksgiving, this attitude of gratitude, is a practice. It isn't typically our first response to a difficult circumstance. As you begin to count your blessings, maybe physically making a list as Ann Voskamp models in One Thousand Gifts, it may even feel unnatural. But let me encourage you, as you intentionally seek the gifts from God all around you, it will become natural. It will become a habit. You won't be able to help but see the hand of God all around you, regardless of where you are at. An attitude of gratitude brings light to the darkest places, and that darkness begins to lose its power.
Find some encouragement today through the study of one or several of these men and women of the Bible below who embraced this attitude of gratitude, and begin to pray that God would begin to plant those seeds of a gracious spirit within you.
Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:2-2:21
David - the vast majority of the book of Psalms
Mary - Luke 1:46-56
The Healed Leaper - Luke 17