We live in challenging times to say the least. Our world is reeling from continuous terror attacks, a refugee crisis, wars, famine, natural disasters, and more. Our country is experiencing deep racial tensions, injustice, violence, corporate greed, and the uncertainty that comes comes with the craziest election cycle maybe in our history. And as we know too well, challenging times do not just surround us, they come into our homes. We lose our job. Our spouse gets a diagnosis. Our child is being bullied at school. Hope for our world and for our families sometimes seems a distant dream. Let’s be honest, sometimes there does not seem to be much to be thankful for. Is it even possible to be thankful in the darkest most difficult times?
The Apostle Paul also lived in challenging times – thrust into the darkest and most difficult personal struggles. His testimony in 2 Corinthians 11 paints a dismal picture, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:23-27)
After all that, now separated from his friends, falsely accused, and forgotten by so many he served, Paul sits in a cold Roman prison. It is in this moment he writes these words, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Really? If anyone had the right to whine and wallow in their circumstances, it would be this guy. Yet, instead of complaints, his lips were filled with worship and thanksgiving. Take a moment and let this sink in: “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” – no matter the circumstance. For Paul, thanksgiving was not a Thursday in November he celebrated once a year, rather it was a lifestyle he exemplified every day. He chose to live a life of thankfulness.
A couple years ago I found myself slipping into a routine of complaining, comparing, and allowing the situations around me to affect my level of gratitude. I had just come out of a difficult season of ministry, was taking on additional responsibilities, and trying to balance work with a growing family. My focus had shifted to my circumstances. It wasn’t often that I would take time to “count my blessings” as the old hymn reminds us to do.
As He often does, the Holy Spirit began gently guiding me back to the simple truth that I am blessed and therefore have much to be thankful for. I began a daily exercise of praising God and giving Him thanks for who He is and what He has done for me. Every morning I would passionately worship the Lord in prayer declaring all reasons He deserved my thanks, my gratitude, and my surrendered life. It wasn’t long before my perspective had changed and my heart of thanksgiving was renewed. As I later wrote, in the midst of all life has to throw at us… We give thanks to you as your blessings fall like rain, for your endless love and the sacrifice you gave. We give praise to you, now with grateful hearts we sing. For your faithfulness, we bring this offering! We give thanks! In writing this song I wanted to give the church a voice to corporately proclaim our thankfulness to God in worship. To hear us sing together, “We give thanks” and allow those words to glorify God and remind us no matter our circumstance He is worthy of our thanks!