*Republished from November 6, 2017
I hope you read Cultivating a Heart of Thanksgiving to Restore the Broken last week. In it I explained why I feel the need to take the month of November and dedicate it to learning everything we can about thanks-giving. The practice of giving thanks has a much grander role in the life of a believer than one celebratory day a year could encompass. Still, that one day is special to me, and it has been abused in recent years. I want to redeem this wonderful holiday, or rather, I want to allow my great and mighty God to redeem it. I hope you’ll join me all month as I learn along with you about all the fantastic benefits of a thankful heart, and do the work to set gratefulness ablaze in my own.
God’s Desire is for His People to be Joyful.
It’s no secret that God wants his people to be joyful. In John 15:11, Jesus tells His disciples, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” In Galatians 5, joy is listed second, behind only love, as a product of the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers.
But sometimes life just sucks, and it can be really hard to be joyful at those times. Especially when our specific situations start to feel hopeless.
Hope is powerful. It’s what keeps us going through difficulties. So how do we restore that hope and find our strength again when it seems like we’re defeated?
As I’ve studied Scripture these past few months, one answer in particular has stood out to me again and again – Remember what God has done, and THANK HIM for it.
The Seriousness of Ingratitude and Forgetfulness
As we study Scripture, we are reminded how persistent the sins of forgetfulness and ingratitude have been through history. It seems to be human nature to quickly forget our blessings. We are prone to look forward towards what we still want rather than back at what we’ve received, and we seem bent on denying God the praise He deserves.
Romans 1:20-23 – For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
The Israelites witnessed mighty miracles again and again from the time of Joseph, through the days of Christ. Yet, again and again, they seemed to almost immediately dismiss His works and complain about what they believed was still missing. God warns us not to do the same in Hebrews,
Hebrews 3:6-9 But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested Me in the wilderness. There your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years.”
I can’t speak for you, but unfortunately, I can kind of relate to the Israelites. When I allow myself to recognize that truth, I’m ashamed. God has been active in my life since I was a little girl. When I take the time to notice, I can see His work all over it. His steadfast love, His tender care, and His mighty miracles throughout.
Of course, there have also been bitter heartaches, inexplicable betrayals (not from God, but from others), undeserved abuses, and unfortunate circumstances peppered throughout my life. It’s so easy for me to set my sights on those things. To keep my focus tight around the pain and use that as fuel to fire my barrage of controversions against His goodness. Shame on me. There is a better way for His dearly loved daughter to behave!
Learning to be Content
I’m learning that it’s all a matter of focus. I know it sounds over-simplified, but I don’t think it really is. We get to choose whether we will count our blessings or our calamities. Whether we will be content or contentious. Paul reminds us how in Philippians, and Nehemiah helps us better define the answer.
Philippians 4:11-13 – …for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10 – …Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!
In other words, we can make our way through this life being content (no matter the circumstances) through the strength of Christ. A strength that comes through the joy of the Lord! There it is again: joy. The answer to finding contentment is to be filled with joy, but we still haven’t nailed down how we attain joy. We get to choose whether we will count our blessings or our calamities. Whether we will be content or contentious. Click To Tweet
Psalms 92:1-5 – It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning, Your faithfulness in the evening, accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp, and the melody of a lyre. You thrill me, Lord, with all You have done for me! I sing for joy because of what You have done. Oh Lord, what great works You do! And how deep are Your thoughts.
Joy is the product of a thankful heart. Plain and simple. When we take stock of God’s abundant blessings, joy will spill out. Every time.Joy is the product of a thankful heart. When we take stock of God's abundant blessings, joy will spill out. Click To Tweet
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has met people who exude joy in the midst of unthinkably difficult circumstances. Isn’t there such a sense of trust and hope about them? They are people who know and trust their God. They are people who draw others in, and make them wonder where their strength comes from. I want to be one of those people! I want to overflow with the joy of the Lord, and I want that alone to be my sustaining source of strength!
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God‘s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
Remembering our Hope with Thanksgiving
It all sounds lovely doesn’t it? But there’s still this one thing: When life gets messy and I’m having a really hard time finding the positives to focus on, where do I find my hope? Where do I start my thanksgiving?
May we never forget, no matter what else, we have the hope of eternity to cling to! We have been saved by grace through faith. No matter how tough this life gets, eternity is a lot longer! So let’s start there.
2 Corinthians 4:13-18 – But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to Himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
Psalms 100 – Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before Him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.
*How about you? Do you tend to struggle with contentment? Does your focus tend to be on what you lack rather than what you have? Do you find joy elusive? How can you start today to choose joy?
***Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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