CULTIVATING AND MAINTAINING THE HABIT OF THANKFULNESS (GRATITUDE (PART ONE): DEFINITIONS AND BACKGROUND
The thrust this fourth article of the series centered on the mechanics and necessity of thanksgiving is on what are we give thanks to God for? We have already considered why should we give thanks (purpose/reason), then how to give thanks (mechanics) and now our attention is on what are we to be grateful for? Should we thank God when bad things happen to us? Should we thank God when we lose a child or a beloved is abused? Is it befitting to thank God when we get news of bad health or of a threat on our lives? It is naturally right and easy to thank God and others when we receive good things or circumstances turn in our favor. But what if the reverse is the case? Let us examine below. The third article on how to thank to God and one another made the following points:
While thanksgiving is essential to the health and wellbeing of individual and communal life, it has to be learnt and maintained by a conscious effort of the will, mind and strength. It is a simple art with profound effects on self and others and yet it is rare and has to be learned. Like most things, it is learnt by practice. We show gratitude by saying “thank you” sincerely when anybody is kind to us in many different ways such as giving us food, clothes, a place to stay, direction, advice, school fees, and any kind of support. We should tell God Almighty “thank you” in the morning first thing, in the evening last thing, midday and whenever we remember to do so all through day for all the good as well as the bad things we receive and experience, for being alive and for strength to carry in spite of all problems and obstacles.
We can thank God and other people by being kind to those who need our help desperately. When we seek out those who are in most need and provide care for them we show our gratitude to God whom we do not see physically. But when we are mean and nasty to others then we are ungrateful to God who is most kind to us; for we are returning evil for good. Some people help us and do not need our help in terms of money or other material kind, we return them thanks by giving and caring for those who are less fortunate than us.
Thanksgiving emanates from an attitude and we can pray and fill our hearts and minds with thoughts of thankfulness even amid difficulties and problems in life. One expert, Warren Wiersbe says, “Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.” In other words it is not so much what happens but how one interprets and one can choose to think positively about lots of things including the ugly ones.
We can also help others, especially those we have influence over (our children and dependents) by setting example and by gently teaching and encouraging them to be grateful to God and others in various situations of life. By learning and keeping the good habit of thankfulness we free ourselves of bitterness, envy, jealously and cultivate a positive attitude of faith, hope and love towards all.
What then shall we give thanks for? In a significant sense, we give thanks and ought to thank God for everything, good or bad. Nowhere in Scripture is this command or teaching to give thanks in all situations clearer than in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Romans 8:28. Let us quote them in full and see how they speak to the need for us mortals to be thankful to God for all conditions of life: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
These verses are saying that we should give thanks to God in everything and for everything. By doing we are not putting a false label on evil and call evil good or that evil is not evil. Rather we are confident that God can and will take us through every situation and that everything will eventually work out in our favor. We thank God in every situation because we know that his grace is sufficient for us at all times and in all places.
We should not thank people who do us harm but we thank God who alone can use the evil intent and action of others to make us better, make us stronger and make us more like God who makes his rain to fall on the good and the evil and his sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous. By behaving this way frees us from bitterness and hatred and turns us towards a goodwill towards all. It is very difficult to thank God when the worst happens to us, but we can if we will and God will supply the wisdom and strength to do so. By thanking God for everything we put our total trust in him and are assured that all will turn out well for us in the end. Thanking God in all circumstances confirms our dependence on him who never fails. This way also gives us strength and joy beyond our normal human capacity.