This year as I was thinking and praying about what to write and say to you this year, God revealed this book to me. It’s called “Choosing Gratitude” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It is very fitting for this time of year and I know that God put it in my lap for a reason. As you probably know the world “Holiday” comes from two words – holy day. More than occasions for exchanging gifts or throwing parties, these are regularly scheduled opportunities to reflect upon and proclaim the goodness, the grace, and the keeping mercies of God (Nancy Leigh DeMoss, “Choosing Gratitude”). (*Most of this post is a "book report" if you will...most of it are Nancy's words and simply me just paraphrasing and summarizing the book as a whole...and adding a few of my examples from my own life. To buy the book go to www.reviveourhearts.com/choosinggratitude).
Holidays or holy days like Christmas and Thanksgiving are milestones for making time and making His praise glorious. But how many of us stop to thank Him on these days let alone daily for the things He has done for us? I started wondering why when we get together with friends and family, do we always sit down for a meal? The reason we eat together stems from a tradition dated all the way back to the bible. When people got together to eat it was to celebrate God’s goodness and giving thanks for his blessings, and observing the Lord’s Supper together. Except for now, most of us get together, have a nice time, and forget to thank God…maybe even forget why we got together in the first place. But it shouldn’t take a special occasion for gratitude to spring from deep within.
The scripture calls us to all-day, everyday gratitude:
Morning and evening. David instructed the Levites “to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening (1 Chronicles 23:30)
Three times a day. The story of Daniel in the bible comes before God at morning, noon, and night, setting aside specific times of day to give thanks for His goodness and faithfulness
The middle of the night. “At midnight I rise to praise you” (Psalm 119:62). Moments of wakefulness through the night are calls to be mindful of the Lord, thanking Him again as we settle back to sleep on a soft bed of gratitude.
Continually. “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1)
We should never run out of things to be thankful for. Even when we are going through something that seems horrible…God has placed us there for His purpose and if you believe that, you will see the good out of it and can thank Him for it. If we turn our gratitude for all these blessings away from the One who provides them, we’re left with a handful of colorful thread but no connection between them. But when our eyes are open by the gratitude to HIS boundless examples of grace, we can see clearly enough to press on in this broken world. We can thank a person for a good meal, a good time, or a good effort, knowing that this has not just been a gift to us from that other person but ultimately comes from the living God. So what kinds of things should we be thankful for?
Visible/material things. Charles Spurgeon said, “let us daily praise God for the common mercies – common as we frequently call them, and yet so priceless that when deprived of them we are ready to perish”
Example of bath soap. A lady I know recently went to Africa on a mission trip. She said one of the things that they were doing there was to teach the kids basic hand washing and teeth brushing. She said that soap was such a high commodity there, that they had to have a “soap monitor” there watching otherwise people would steal the soap.
• God’s nearness
• God’s holiness and faithfulness
I loved what Nancy says about these two qualities of God. She says sometimes we might wish that God’s flawless example and righteous requirements weren’t’ always so rock-solid and unbending. But because his holiness and faithfulness are solid as a rock and God never changes, we know that He is always the same. It is a gift…the “blessed assurance” that no matter how unreliable those around us may be, no matter how unstable our own footing, or how often or far we may fall, God will always be there…always trustworthy
• God’s mercy
God doesn’t lower His standards to accommodate our disobedience and inabilities. He knows that our best is nowhere near being good enough, but “God being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4) has reached down to rescue and redeem us through the precious offering of His son, the perfect sacrifice. Isaiah 12:1) says I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me”. With wrath being His justifiable response toward us He has chosen to show mercy instead (Habakkuk 3:2). There is no way we could ever repay Him for such amazing grace. There is only one response that even begins to measure its worth – a thankful heart, expressed in both word and deed.
• God’s calling – the job God has called us to do. As meaningless as some tasks may seem, as weary as we may get we need to be reminded that it is a privilege to be entrusted by the living God with responsibility in His kingdom. You will find that your workload is lightened when you approach it as a high and holy calling…a gift to be received by God. God placed you there.
• Victory over death and the grave
• Deliverance from indwelling sin
• The ultimate triumph of the gospel
• And many others that fall under this spiritual blessing category
Relational Blessings – God sends us blessings by way of others – friends, family, fellow believers
When we stop to think about it, we truly are blessed people. But that doesn’t mean life is easy. Sometimes our problems seem to outnumber or outweigh our blessings. Can we really be thankful at all times even when our eyes our filled with tears? I have really struggled over this question for many years. God has been showing me this past year that if I just trust Him and allow Him to be in control, He will show me what He is doing…when I did this…let go of things and let Him be in charge, it was very freeing…very peaceful…and I could see clearly what He was doing in my life. I can even give you an example of something that happened just the other day...I had a really rough day with the kids. They were very disobedient. I even called out to God…what is it you want from me? What am I doing wrong? What are you trying to show me? Those events actually forced Brock and I to have a serious conversation about our parenting…it brought us together on that topic and helped us come up with a game plan which we really needed. If those events hadn’t happened, we may not have had the conversation. An example in this book was about Scottish preacher George Matherson. He began losing his eyesight in the late adolescence for no apparent reason. By age twenty he was totally blind, as a result of which his fiancée broke off their engagement. He struggled for many long months with a broken heart, wrestling with unanswered questions. The whole experience drove him nearly to despair and he was tempted to quit ministry altogether. Yet ultimately he came to the place where he could say:
My God, I have never thanked you for my thorn! I have thanked you a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorn. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed to you by the PATH OF PAIN. Show me my tears have made my rainbow.
Nancy in this books says she gets many letters and emails from people that are going through or have gone through painful things in their lives. “They tell of family histories filled with abuse and neglect, whole childhoods of instability and custody battles, years lost to rebellion, deception, still paying for bad choices with frayed relationships and mountains of regret, and yet looking back on all that it cost them, they are grateful for what God is accomplishing through that. They are able to rebuild on the backs of forgiveness and genuine repentance through Jesus Christ.
Those who say “No” to resentment and “Yes” to gratitude even in the face of excruciating pain, incomprehensible loss, and ongoing adversity, are the ones who really survive. We have lots to be thankful for…no matter what it costs.
The choice before you and me today is: Do we give glory to God for the part of our life that’s going the way we want? Or do we worship Him, trust Him, and give Him thanks, just because He is God-regardless of the dark, painful, incomprehensible places we encounter in our journey? We may not understand why He allowed these circumstance to come into our lives and we may not every understand. But we do know that He is good, and whatever He does is for our good and His glory. So by faith, we give thanks to Him. Your circumstances might not change, but He will change you in the midst of them.
It’s a sacrifice either way. If we go on without gratitude-choosing to be bitter, constantly predicting our fate- we force ourselves to live in already unhappy conditions with the added drag of our glooming disposition. Unwilling to stay mindful of the blessings we enjoy in spite of our difficulties, as well as the strength and sensitivity God grows best in us through hardship and loss, we sacrifice peace. We sacrifice contentment. We sacrifice relationships-and freedom and grace and joy. But what if we could maintain all those things – and even increase them beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before – by making just one sacrifice: the sacrifice of thanksgiving? Regardless of how we fee, anything that makes me need God is a blessing. Be it disappointment. Be it physical suffering. Be it mental or relational anguish. Why make it worse by withdrawing from His grace and fellowship, enduring life on the raw edge without relying on Him for help? Why not see what could happen if you let the pain drive you close to His side? Yes, giving thanks in all things may require a sacrifice.
In Psalm 30:12, David says “I will give thanks to you forever”. Gratitude should be an every-moment, every-hour, every-day lifetime event. So why not start becoming proficient at expressing gratitude – not because we have to, not simply because were commanded to, but as a reflection of truly grateful hearts.